By Muneeb Nasir
[This is the fourth part in the series covering the history of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, the first purpose built Islamic Centre to be established in Toronto. Many of the men, women and young people involved in the Islamic Foundation would become leaders and community activists in the North American Muslim community well beyond the confines of this mosque – a testimony to the dynamism of the Foundation in the early decades].
Since its founding, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto has been providing services to the Muslims in the eastern part of Toronto.
The Friday congregational prayer service (Salaatul Jumuah) as well as Sunday midday prayers (Salaatul Zuhr) were held at the facility on Rhodes Avenue in East York.
The number of programs and services would continue to grow in the early 1980s. In addition to the weekly congregational prayers, there was a weekly Islamic weekend school for children and adults, and regular youth camps, seminars, lecture and seminar programs were held in the mosque.
In 1981, the official census listed 98,000 Muslims in Canada, with 52,000 residing in Ontario and the population was growing rapidly.
As the community was increasing in size, the members considered options for the future of the Islamic Foundation – the expansion of the facilities was looked at a number of times but there were no adjoining properties available for such an expansion and, more importantly, the Muslims that attended the Islamic Foundation were not living in the vicinity but were living mostly in the eastern boroughs of Metropolitan Toronto.
On a Sunday afternoon in the Fall of 1981, following the congregational prayers, the decision was made to build an Islamic Centre in Scarborough to include a mosque, a full-time school, cafeteria, gymnasium and facilities for bathing and shrouding the deceased.
This was a momentous decision and undertaking as it would be the first purpose built Islamic Centre in the Greater Toronto Area.
There were a few other mosques in the Toronto area but all were converted industrial buildings or, in the case of the Jami Mosque, a church that was repurposed for a mosque.
The only purpose built mosque in Ontario was the London Muslim Mosque that was completed in June 1964.
The search for a suitable land in Scarborough began and there was great excitement among the small congregation as they set out finding a suitable site for the Centre.
Initially, the Executives for the new Islamic Centre seriously considered a site at Kennedy and Steeles Avenues, at the border of Markham.
Although this site was suitably located and met many of the requirements, there were a number of drawbacks to it that would have presented difficulties – the land was not yet serviced and there were no definite plans by the government to do so in the near future.
Another land site was soon found on Markham Road, north of Sheppard Avenue. It was suitably located in an area where many Muslims were already living in the surrounding neighborhood and it was easily accessible by the major arteries.
The final decision was made to purchase this 2.35 acre land after the full support for the development of the Islamic Centre was given by the Mayor of Scarborough, Gus Harris, the alderman of the ward, Joe DeKort and the city planning committee.
An offer to purchase the land was made in February of 1984 and was accepted for the sum of $525,000 paid in full.
The early proposal for the new Islamic Centre stated that it will ‘consist of a masjid for 1,200 persons, a full-time Islamic School for 250 children and a community centre.’
As plans took shape for a Canadian Islamic Centre, many Muslims, reflecting the growing diversity of the community, would join the congregation of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto.
In his Eid al-Fitr message, Mohamed Nasir, President and Chairman of the Building Trust Fund, called for the community’s support for the project.
‘Alhamdulilaah, after years of pursuit, we are presented with an excellent opportunity to establish an Islamic complex with all the necessary facilities around where an active Muslim community can be established. Let us seize this opportunity to come together to work for the realization of this project which is essential for the future of our children,” he said.
“Many individuals, families and youth from the Muslim community have generously given their time, efforts and donations in support of the project. May Allah reward you manifold in this world and the Hereafter. However, the continued support of the Muslims is needed for the quick completion of this project.”
Despite the City of Scarborough rezoning the land for the Centre in December 1984, a restaurant owner opposite the site appealed the city’s decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. He contended that an Islamic Centre opposite his business would jeopardize his restaurant’s success as Muslims oppose the consumption of alcohol. He also voiced objections that the mosque proposal had an inadequate number of parking spaces and his business would be affected by a spill over of congregants’ cars onto his property.
However, in 1985 the Ontario Municipal Board dismissed the restaurant owner’s appeal citing that his grounds for appeal of the City’s rezoning were insufficient.
The drive to build the Islamic Centre was now well on its way.
[The next installment in this series will look at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto from the mid-1980s to initial construction of the Islamic Centre].
*Muneeb Nasir is Chairman of the Olive Tree Foundation (www.olivetreefoundation.ca), a public endowment foundation. He served as a Board of Director of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto in the early 1990s, on a number of committees in the organization from 1974 to 1995 and as Chairman of its Program Committee for many years.