By Muneeb Nasir
Toronto’s Jami Mosque commemorated its 50th anniversary on Saturday, 28th December and members came from far and wide to celebrate and reminisce about this iconic Muslim institution and to share memories.
“This masjid is a very Canadian masjid,” said Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star’s editorial page editor emeritus in his remarks to the gathering. “It was an iconic church which has become an iconic mosque in a multicultural neighborhood, with mostly Christian neighbors who have been extraordinarily understanding in a Canadian way.”
The Jami Mosque, often referred to as the ‘mother of all mosques’ and located at 56 Boustead Avenue in the High Park neighborhood, was formerly the High Park Presbyterian Church.
It was purchased by the Muslim Society of Toronto (MST) for $125,000 in 1969 and renamed Jami Mosque. The Muslim Society was operating Toronto’s first mosque at 3047 Dundas Street West since 1961 but the move to a larger facility was prompted by an increase in new members.
The mosque opened for worship on 27th February, 1969.
“This is a very Canadian mosque because like Canada’s demography it keeps changing,” added Haroon Siddiqui. “The demography of this mosque has constantly been evolving, originally Albanian, then Arabs and Indo-Pakistanis and Somalis, and now totally multi-cultural.”
“In the very difficult post-911 period, when I used to come here, I would bring my colleagues from work and friends and I would say to them, ‘look at this audience, it is virtually a United Nations,’” he noted. “It is a great blessing that this multicultural religion has found a home in a very multicultural country called Canada.”
One of the most heartfelt presentations of the afternoon’s celebrations was given by Dr. Thabit Mehdi who volunteered his services to mentor Muslim teenagers in the mosque for three decades.
“In 1974, Lady Ayesha Jinnah (may Allah have mercy on her) asked me to speak to some of the young people,” said Dr. Mehdi. “So we had a session on Saturday from 10:30 am to Zuhr time and that extended to 30 years.”
“The name of the group was Muslim Youth Dialogue Assembly and I learnt so much from them, through their questioning and challenge. The theme that was selected was the first verse of Surah Al-Maidah – O you who believe fulfill, honor and deliver your commitments – these commitments are to Allah, to the Prophet, peace be on him, to people, to the community and to this great land.”
“We owe a great deal of respect and love to this land, it is a blessed land. May Allah bless it and bless its leaders to take the right steps to advance it in goodness, God willing,” added Dr. Mahdi.
Prime Minister sent congratulatory greetings to the congregation on the anniversary.
“I am pleased to extend my warmest greetings to everyone marking the 50th anniversary of Jami Mosque,” said Prime Minister Trudeau in his greetings.
“For 50 years, Jami Mosque, the oldest Islamic centre in Toronto, has been a gathering place for the city’s thriving Muslim community. This anniversary offers congregants a chance to reaffirm their deeply held spiritual beliefs, and to reflect on the events that have shaped the mosque’s history and legacy.”
According to the Architectural Conservancy Ontario, the original building, High Park Presbyterian Church was completed in 1930 and designed by architects John Francis Brown & Son in the Gothic Revival style.
The church replaced an old school, which was purchased from the board of education in 1925 and used by the congregation. The property was originally donated to the city by John Howard in the late 19th century.