Building a Place of Peace

Burnaby Now
Published: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When the Burnaby Mosque and Education Centre at 5060 Canada Way opened in 2009, it was a curious addition to the area.

The main Burnaby fire hall was across one street, while a gas station and strip mall was across another. Burnaby Village Museum was off in the distance, and the never-ending barrage of cars coming on and off the Trans Canada Highway was constant.

But once you step inside the officially named Masjid Al-Salaam and Education Centre – Masjid is Arabic for mosque while Al-Salaam is Arabic for peace – you are transported to another world.

“Every day, we have people who pray towards Mecca five times a day,” said Daud Ali, chairman of the mosque.

The first prayer is at sunrise, and the last one is at night. With the changing seasons, prayer times differ, but an overhead television has the prayer times for people as soon as they enter the mosque.

The mosque, owned by the B.C. Muslim Association, was a labour of love and financial prudence that took more than a decade to complete.

The process began in November 1997, when local Muslims met with then-mayor Doug Drummond and asked for the city’s help in building a mosque in Burnaby. The city’s planning department suggested the current location, which was previously a gas station.

Within 19 months, the land had been rezoned, and, by May 2000, the local Muslim community had started fundraising and doing architectural work on the new site.

“We did not want to go to the banks and be issued a loan with interest,” said Ali. “We did fundraising ourselves, and we had an interest-free line-of-credit from the B.C. Muslim Association.”

Ali admitted that doing it this way meant it would take a long time to build the mosque, but he has absolutely no regrets.

“We wanted to do this right, and that meant being sensible both with the plans for the mosque and with the finances.”

A groundbreaking ceremony was held in November 2000, with excavation and construction beginning in January 2001. Despite complications with the soil on site – the former gas station contributed to the problem – the mosque got its full occupancy permit on Jan. 21, 2009.

“Before we had the mosque, we had to go to the Tri-Cities or we had to use other facilities,” said Ali. “Now that we have a place of our own, it has been very nice.”

Ali pointed out there are more than 10,000 Muslims in Burnaby. On Fridays, when Muslims are required to go to a mosque to pray together, the Burnaby facility averages 750 devout Muslims.

“On Good Friday, we had 1,200 people,” said Ali.

The mosque was able to accommodate that many people because there are multiple prayer rooms. On the main floor, the main prayer hall is for men. On the second floor, the women have their own prayer room. And in a separate room right behind the women’s room is the children’s room, where children can pray. More importantly, the women can pray without having to worry about their children.

“We have a saying that prayer is good, but there is more reward when you pray together,” said Ali.

During the daily prayers, the congregation is asked to pray shoulder-to-shoulder, a task made easier by the fact the carpeting has rectangular squares that mark off separate prayer spots for each person.

Outside of the daily prayer services, the mosque also offers a special room designed for confidential counselling sessions. There are also plans for a youth centre that will be equipped with exercise equipment.

The facility also provides services of a weekend religious school for children who want to learn about the Koran, Hadith (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad), the basics of Islam and the Arabic language.

The mosque also has established programs for adult education, computer classes and even courses and seminars on healthy cooking and seniors’ health.

The mosque also participates in an interfaith program, where it regularly partners with local churches, such as the Deer Lake United Church, Columbia Bible College and the Ahavat Olam Synagogue for joint events.

But, perhaps the most stunning thing about the mosque is that it is an architectural marvel. It’s hard to miss the minaret that acts as a visual focal point. But, look closer, and faith is literally carved into the walls and railings. “Look up to the second floor where the classrooms are,” said Ali. “You can read the name Allah in the metal railings. “And on the main wall outside, Allah is carved into the wall as well.”

The design of the mosque was so good that the designer, local Muslim architect Sharif Senbel, won numerous awards for his design, including the 2008 Design Merit Award in the Religious Category from the Masonry Institute of British Columbia.

Ali said the congregation has united Muslims from all over the world, as their membership includes people from Fiji, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Bosnia, China, Hong Kong, Egypt, Syria, South Africa, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Lebanon and the United Kingdom.

We also believe in giving back to the community,” said Ali. He pointed out that the mosque also provides meat to local soup kitchens and to the Burnaby school district’s hot lunch program.

“We also run our own food bank,” said Ali. “Every week, volunteers distribute groceries to needy families in the mosque’s parking lot. Last December, we donated $15,000 to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.”

© Burnaby Now 2010