Early each morning, Masjid Al-Noor in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, opens its doors inviting worshippers to perform Salat al-Fajr
The First Dawn Prayer in North America.
Observed Each Day in Congregation.
The masjid is here in large measure to an Egyptian Professor who migrated to St. John’s and taught at Memorial University beginning in 1986.
By 1990, Masjid Al-Noor was built under his leadership.
The architect, a Hindu, was a civil engineer.
Perhaps in a returning gesture of goodwill, a Muslim woman was among the initial funders of St. John’s Hindu Temple.
Two decades beform Imam Haddara arrived, the first recorded Muslim here was Dr. Muhammad Irfan, a professor of Physics who began community organizing.
By the middle 1980s, there were 20 families living in St. John’s and less than 10 Muslim studying at Memorial U.
Until 1990, the number hovered around 15-25 Muslim families, while International Students increased to around 100.
By 2000, between 150-200 families were Muslim, and students numbered 300.
During the past decade, the economic prosperity brought about by off-shore oil changed these numbers. Current economic downturn notwithstanding.
Masjid Al-Noor now has membership via families of 600 people and 500 students.
Currently, a safe estimate is 1,000 Muslims live in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
The Masjid is a three storey structure. Sisters can pray behind the men on the main floor, or the second floor during peak prayer times like Taraweeh, when brothers make use of this area.
The building is accessible, including washroom facilities on the main floor.
By 2001, MANAL began a dialogue with the St. John’s Council of Churches.
Afterwards, when the Jewish group Havura was formed, the Masjid Community expressed a wish to work with our Abrahamic cousins.
After the events of September 2001, many U.S. bound Graduate Students skipped American Universities and numbers of them came to Newfoundland, Imam Haddara recalled at his retirement party,
“Graduate students came, enjoyed it, left with a good impression. Word spread.”
Haddara during his retirement party, reflected about Masjid Al-Noor,
“It is a rare thing. If you go to Toronto for example, there would be a mosque for Shi’a and a mosque for Sunni … in big places where there is a critical mass, people usually tend to separate.”
“… Forget your background. This is what we do here. Everybody together.”
The founding Imam of Masjid Al-Noor, Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mahmoud Haddara, is now retired and lives in London, Ontario.
What welcomes you upon entering…
Masjid Al-Noor presently does not have an full time Imam.
That is partly the reason the Masjid is only open for three out of the five daily prayers.
In Toronto, as Brother Zoheb expressed, there’s an abundance of Scholarship.
In St. John’s, Islamic Scholarship is scarce.
Indeed. In preparation for 30 Masjid Canada, I sought out travel advice from Toronto-based Imams assuming that at some point they had visited St. John’s.
All the Imams I spoke to had never been to Newfoundland.
How often do properly educated Muslim Imams or scholars visit Masjid Al-Noor in St. John’s?
Perhaps one visit every 18 months.
And if they do visit, Q&A session may last long past any scheduled end time.
One rare visit by a New York based Imam was to begin at 10 p.m. and last an hour.
By 1 a.m. that
night morning, Muslims were still waiting their turn to seek out his counsel.
If there are ANY Imams or Scholars reading this, please pencil in a stopover or visit The Muslim Community in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Yes, You’ll likely end up answering Q’s from Maghrib until Fajr, but hey, that’s what you do!
Your visit will make a lasting difference! InshAllah.
A group of kids under adult supervision from Toronto came to St. John’s to knock on doors and invite people to Islam.
In that instance, Masjid Al-Noor let the group stay overnight.
It’s a known practice by some Muslim parents in Toronto, if you have problem children… send them on these one or two week outings where groups travel around and knock on doors.
Think of it as sending your problem kid to bootcamp to knock some sense into them.
Yeah well, a couple of youth, two very bad Toronto apples, decided to skip door knocking, break into the donation box, then go on a fast food binge at Mickey Dees.
That’s why I couldn’t, nor can anyone else, stay overnight in Masjid Al-Noor:
Certificate in the foyer congratulating a young sister for being Funny 🙂 .
Many Newfoundlanders work in Fort McMurray and are directly affected by the forest fires which have devasted the city.
Many International Students have local friends whose families have been affected.
It was natural for St. John’s Muslims to fundraise and help their friends and wider community, hence this Fort McMurray Fundraising Project.
Growing Up Muslim in Newfoundland
After performing Fajr inside Masjid Al-Noor, Zoheb and I are standing outside in the parking lot. We’re almost the last ones to leave.
Lights out. Again.
There is plenty of time left before my early flight to Nova Scotia for the next leg of 30 Masjids Canada.
Zoheb asks if there’s anything in St. John’s I feel I missed?
I haven’t truly seen St. John’s at all, other than the walk from airport to Masjid Al-Noor on Sunday for Fajr, then the walk from there to Memorial University, where I stayed in a dorm room.
Almost all my time has been 30 Masjids related.
I lament not following up in exploring the Halal Food scene in St. John’s. I ask about that as we begin heading downtown.
Along the way, Zoheb shares his experience of growing up in St. John’s.
He was the only brown face amongst all his childhood and teenage friends.
Zoheb didn’t drink, but his non-Muslim friends did, and he was very uncomfortable with the alcohol culture around him.
It was tough.
For second-generation Muslim Newfoundlanders, it isn’t much different today.
The few Muslim youth, between ages of 14 up to first, or even second year, undergrad at Memorial U., that is age 19-21, experience this party problem.
When all one’s friends are white kids who drink, even if the Muslim in this group doesn’t fall into alcohol, his behaviour becomes that of the group.
Masjid Al-Noor is an out-of-the-way location. It is not the space nor centre the second generation needs or can use.
A number of Muslim families have bought or are buying as close as possible to St. John’s only masjid, including Zoheb’s who live a few minutes drive away.
At least one or two families have purchased homes in a new residential sub-division across the street from Masjid Al-Noor.
Despite those efforts by the First Generation, there lacks a critical mass of Second-Generation Muslim teens or youth to truly form their own safe space.
Consequently, no opportunity for a Muslim Group Culture to organically take hold.
Without a car, it’s hard to reach the Masjid.
Bicycling as a solution can’t apply here. St. John’s is more Hill and Dale than even San Francisco’s challenging cycle routes and paths. And winter? Forget it.
Zoheb informs me there is a growing realization by the Student and younger generation for a second masjid, closer to downtown.
But it must be a recreation centre. Somewhere youth can hang out and be with other young Muslims. It can’t just be St. John’s second masjid.
As we’ve been driving, we pass over squares and rectangles of newly paved black ashphalt scattered throughout the regular paved car lanes.
The tax base of the city can’t afford to regularly re-pave roads properly. Hence the St. John’s city-wide checkerboard roadscape.
Likewise, the Muslim population in St. John’s can’t afford to fundraise within itself for a second location, be it masjid, or rec centre for that matter.
What was his solution?
While hundreds of International Students find their way to Memorial University for the lowest Undergrad Tuition rates in Canada. Graduate. Then leave…
Zoheb, left Newfoundland. Found an undergrad program in Toronto. Found that Group Muslim Culture lacking in St. John’s. Graduated. Worked. Returned. Now he’s staying.
Hunting Halal & Gathering Zabeeha
Posters advertising Halal food can be found in bulletin boards of both Memorial U., and Masjid Al-Noor.
At one time, likely bourne out of necessity, Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador provided:
This colourful poster caught my eye, yet I wasn’t yet able to visit Mohamed Ali‘s.
He’s brought some Middle Eastern flavour to St. John’s downtown palatte. Halal Shawarma for starters.
In Toronto, the “Halal” Food/Restaurant eco-system is a given. Today that is. Abdul Qadir got sick of eating fish for seven years and became Toronto’s first Halal Butcher.
Not so in St. John’s.
There are five restaurants providing Halal options, but without a halal butcher, it’s a struggle for consistent menus.
Zoheb sums it all up, “lack of a Halal butcher is really being felt.”
Taste East is St. John’s go-to shop for Halal Meat. This store imports spices, daals (lentils), vegetables, from Toronto, then adds a big mark-up… because they can.
They also contract out to a farmer who makes cows available for Zabeeha, for Halal Slaughter.
Chickens are much harder to come by for local logistical reasons. Lamb, frozen Halal Lamb from New Zealand rounds out the Halal Meat options.
But it all remains expensive.
Zoheb informs me it is normal for Newfoundlanders to have three or four freezers or fridges per household. Something unheard of in other urban centres.
Newfoundlanders hunt Moose. It’s family cultural thing. And they need a place to put all that moose meat after the hunt.
Muslims here may not yet have a taste for Halal Moose, but for cows they do.
Zoheb’s family has made arrangement to also contract the same Zabeeha supplier as Taste East, saving money in doing so.
But, in such an arrangement, you can’t order a pound or two on demand. You order the entire cow.
Every time you order.
Akin to their Newfoundlander neighbours, Muslim families in St. John’s end up owning three or four freezers, in their case to park all that Halal Cow Meat.
Zoheb states in The Greater Toronto Area, many Muslim amenities are taken for granted.
Many St. John’s Muslims, make trips into Toronto with intentions of bringing back “bags” of spices, specialty south asian vegetables, and other hard to find food items to bypass Taste East’s higher prices.
Including Zoheb’s Dad, whose current bag of vegetables from Toronto is still full.
In 1986 when Imam Mahmood Haddara migrated to Newfoundland, ordering in a restaurant, he recalls stating to the wait staff he,
“Don’t eat pork … still ended up with with a meal with bacon in it.”
Food in St. John’s in1986 was cooked in lard. By 2000, vegetable oil displaced lard.
Today in Newfoundland, Halal remains a struggle. There is no system. Only one-off efforts for the foreseeable future.
Impact of Syrian Refugees in St. John’s
Only upon arriving in St. John’s did I learn that the city’s only masjid does NOT host Iftar Dinners, even on the weekends, this year.
It may be the first time, Masjid Al-Noor is skipping Public weekend Iftars during Ramadan.
We need to back up a bit to understand why.
Muslim population in St. John’s comprises around 1,100 people today.
The make up of that 1,100 is gleaned from current membership in Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador: 200 member families plus the 600 Muslim International Students enrolled at MUN; we then add in Muslim Faculty teaching at Memorial University to get this number.
During the past year, numerous Church groups have sponsored Syrian Refugee families while individual Christian families in Newfoundland also privately sponsored Syrian refugees.
About 500 Syrian Refugees in total now live in Newfoundland, so far.
With its stretched resources, MANAL managed to sponsor one Syrian family.
The Syrians are not concentrated in any one part of St. John’s, they are settled all over. Further, they don’t own vehicles, so getting to Masjid Al-Noor on a regular basis isn’t on the table.
Before Ramadan began, MANAL hosted a reception open to all Syrian Refugees who’d arrived so far.
The 500 showed up.
The basement of Masjid Al-Noor was bursting and over capacity.
IF public iftars were to be held during Ramadan 2016, there just isn’t enough space for the existing Muslim Community plus the newer members of the Community, who would undoubtably show up.
Breaking fast followed by Taraweeh night prayers outside?
It’s easy for Mainlanders to forget Newfoundland, like its neighbour Iceland, is an island in the North Atlantic. It gets COLD at night.
So that’s a non-starter.
The arrival of Syrian Refugee Families has been the biggest influx of Muslims at any one time in Newfoundland’s history.
The current Muslim population in St. John’s has jumped by 30% in less than a year.
Even imagining 1,500 people squeezing into the building pictured here is tough on the mind’s eye…
Ramadan is a time when Muslims believe their prayers are heard and answered.
It isn’t hard to figure out what Muslim Newfoundlanders are praying for this Ramadan….
1,100 1,600 of them.
— HïMY SYeD (@30masjids) June 7, 2016