By: Ismael Mukhtar
The first ever mosque in Manitoba was established in Winnipeg in 1976 on 247 Hazelwood. The mosque served as the only mosque for Muslims of Winnipeg for two decades. The location of the Hazelwood mosque was on the southern end of the city and was somewhat far away from downtown. Commuting to the Hazelwood mosque for Jumma and other prayers was challenging for downtowners. The Muslim Student Association at the University of Winnipeg had a temporary prayer room that provided an alternative. This alternative, however, was only available during the school year; it was not available in the summer. Various efforts were made to find another alternative, such as approaching the International Center and similar institutions in the downtown area.
In the early 90’s a building owned by a Muslim business man became available on Ellice Avenue. It served as a permanent Jumma prayer location for about a year and ceased to be available afterwards. Around this time a small building was purchased by the Pakistani Association on Ross Avenue but remained empty most of the time. The President of the Pakistani Association at that time, Khalid Khan, agreed to make the place available for Jumma and regular prayers. The building was in dire need of repairs and renovations. However, it became a place permanently used for Jumma. As the attendance grew, the renovation of the building became of paramount importance. A fundraising effort lead by Dr. Ahmed Al-Saghier – a Saudi medical student- was initiated. Within a short period of time, close to $30,000 was collected. The building was soundly rennovated. A committee, jointly appointed by Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA) and the Pakistani Association was assigned the management of the place. The place became a source of attraction for downtowners. After few years, it was runing out of capacity and the neighbours were complaing of parking jams. Complaints were made to the City and the building was closed pending hearing. However, with the intervention of one of our community’s elders, Br. Abdu El-Tasee, the parking issue was resolved and it was reopened. The growth in attendance kept on increasing; the need for a larger space was becoming clearly evident.
One of the regular attendees and khateebs of the Ross Pakistani Association Center was one of our community’s elders, Dr. Mujeeb Rahman. Seeing the need for a greater space, Dr. Mujeeb, along with some others, took the initiative of searching for a larger building downtown. After some search a building previously used by a restaurant was available for sale. An offer was made and was accepted; the building was purchased. Buying it was not easy. There were a number of objections. Some of the objections focused around the fact that the Waverely Mosque was under construction and another undertaking in downtown will would negatively impact the fundraising efforts to complete the Waverely project. Other objections included the fact that the project wasn’t under the auspices of MIA Executive. Despite all the objections and lack of full fledged support, Dr. Rahman was fully determined to see the project to its end.
When I first saw the building after purchase, I was shocked how much in bad shape the interior of the building was. Further, I felt the place was far too big. I was even wondering if the right choise was made in acquiring this building. It took months of cleaning, scrapping, rennovation, and hard work to make the place usable. Weekend after weekend, the family of Dr.Rahman, Br. Farhad Sultanpour and his wife Sr. Glenda Lagadi and many other volunteers worked relentlessly to meet their target opening date of 1st Jumma in Ramadan.
By the grace of Allah the place was opened as planned in the first Jummah of Ramadan 2004. Having seen how in bad shape the building was when it was purchased and how beatiful it looked when it officially opened, my sense of appreciatiion for Dr.Rahman’s family and all the volunteers was huge. I was honoured to lead the 1st Jummah at WCM. The place was half full. Over the years the attendance kept on growing, to the extent of running over capacity within a few years.
The WCM has served the whole community and particularly the downtowners very well. New immigrants, who mostly settle downtown, find a covenient mosque at a walking distance. Similarly, people who work in downtown have found it a very covenient place to come for Jummah. The WCM has provided an avenue for newcomers to be connected to their new Muslim community and maintain their Islamic values and identity.
The WCM’s success stems, among others, from the fact that it was not a splinter project. It was a project created with the purpose of meeting a need of the community. The WCM became an open place for all members of the community and has been effectively utilized for all sorts of activities and events. Even though, the WCM, was not formally under MIA governonship structure, it adopted a policy of cooperation and working together with MIA and all other local institutions; thus enhancing the community’s unity and capacity.
Having WCM was a great blessing from Allah. It wouldn’t have come true if it was not for Allah’s will first and next to the vision, the will, the determination and hard work of our esteemed elder Dr. Mujeeb Rahman. May Allah bless him, his family and all those who made great contributions to our community.