Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series called the Land Where We Stand (LWWS). Uncovering the hidden stories about the land our community is built on is what the Chronicle’s feature series, the #landwherewestand, is about.
co-written by Sophia Abbasi
“Now more than ever, especially after 9/11, people have a lot of questions about Islam and when they see a masjid that looks like a masjid, that represents Muslims in the community, they’ll come to the masjid and actually ask,” says Siraj Patel, 48, an Oshawa native who was able to see the Muslim house of worship draw a bigger community.
While there is now a mosque in downtown Oshawa, that was not always the case.
In the early ’70s, Muslims needed a masjid or mosque in the heart of Oshawa. With no designated prayer space, the 40 Muslim families gathered in basements to offer their congregational prayers.
Eventually, in 1975, the families decided to purchase a house on Lloyd Street, and call it their mosque.
After Patel’s father moved to Oshawa and Patel was born, he spent a lot of his time in the small mosque.
As he grew, so did Oshawa, and Patel became the president of the mosque: the Islamic Centre of Oshawa.
As the Muslim population increased in the city, the board decided to expand. The Islamic Centre of Oshawa was the third mosque organization created in Ontario, with London and downtown Toronto being the only neighbouring mosques at the time.
Between 2007-2012, the Muslim community in Oshawa raised $1.5 million for a new mosque. The house on Lloyd Street and McGrigor Street was demolished and in 2012, the new mosque building was built.
“I remember one of the days we had an open house here and an old non-Muslim lady – she had to be close to her 90s – said ‘I remember when you guys had initially bought the old house here. All the people in the community were talking about how a group of hairy Christians had moved to Oshawa and purchased this property’,” Patel says.
The community did not know who Muslims were in the late ’70s. However, that has changed.
The primary objective of the mosque was to serve the Muslim community. From allowing people to meet the Islamic leads of the community to providing a space for the children.
Now, the Islamic Centre of Oshawa has established a presence for both the Muslim and non-Muslim population in the city.
Place of Community
Right before the new mosque was built, Patel was looking for an imam, a spiritual and religious leader for the mosque and the community, for the Islamic Centre of Oshawa.
He met Shakir Pandor, a Canadian serving as an imam in Kentucky, and they mutually decided that Pandor would be the imam of the Oshawa mosque. Pandor has been the imam of the Islamic Centre of Oshawa for 11 years.
The mosque has traditionally been a space for the community to worship, gather and learn.
“The goal of a mosque has already been defined within Islam, so I don’t think that changes in any way,” Pandor says. “It is to be a centre of spirituality, support and education for the entire community.”
Fiaz Jadoon was born and raised in Oshawa. He has been attending the mosque since he was three years old. He has seen the old and new building, and witnessed the demographic of the city change.
“My biggest blessing in life is that I get called to visit the masjid every single day. People don’t get that,” says Jadoon. “When you have that, you want to cherish it.”
While the mosque still serves its traditional purpose, there has been a shift in the contextual services the mosque provides. As demographics change and people find solace in the space, the mosque seeks to provide space for everybody.
“The new generation of young women gravitate towards the masjid, a lot more than our mothers did,” Patel says. “The younger generation sees the masjid not only as a place of worship but a space to network and socialize.”
With weekend Islamic classes, more women and young girls are finding community at the centre.
Muzainah Kharodia, a student of the part-time Alimiyyah classes, says the mosque is a safe space for her.
“As a young Muslim woman, being able to connect to other Muslim women at the masjid is very important,” Kharodia says. “I feel a sense of comfort and companionship between my fellow peers and sisters.”
A Home for All
While the centre also offers after school classes for children aged five to 13, the classes have hit capacity. The 6,000 square feet building is not enough space for the growing Muslim population in Oshawa.
“One of the challenges, for sure, is keeping up with the growth. The community is growing far faster than we can meet the needs of the community,” Patel says.
The goal for the near future is to open up their space and accommodate more people.
“Our most pressing need right now is some type of expansion plan. Whether that’s a secondary location or expanding our current facility,” Patel says.
Another challenge the mosque faces is Islamophobia and hate crimes. In 2016, a BB gun was fired at the mosque where worshippers and children were near the window the pellets hit.
Since then, the centre has increased protocols for the security of the worshippers and community, including cameras, higher vigilance and keeping in touch with law enforcement.
“In addition to that, there is an educational piece. The more you work within the community, the more people know that you’re here,” Patel says. “When people start to see Muslims that are an active part of the broader Oshawa community, that creates goodwill and comfort.”
Regardless of the hate and fear, the mosque must remain a safe space for all.
“The masjid needs to be a place where everyone is welcome,” Jadoon says.
The centre has its doors open to everyone.
“We get a lot of people come through here that just want to learn about Islam or want a tour of the masjid,” Patel says. “It’s actually become a primary resource to reach out and answer the questions of the non-Muslims of our community.”
The faith of a Muslim believer is rooted in trusting God, even during traumatic occurrences such as the hate Muslims face.
The mosque and the city is home to over 150,000 Muslims.
“We should instill a sense of confidence within our community and ourselves, such that we are resilient and we know we belong,” Patel says. “We have every right to be here, every right to worship and every right to be a part of Oshawa and Canada.”