Lights are off inside the Albanian Muslim Society of Toronto at 564 Annette Street at Runnymede Road.
One minute before Maghrib.
And no one is home…
Quickly considering my options, I opt to cross the street and buy something to break fast with.
Recalling the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) during his Isra wa Miraj, chose milk over wine, and a small carton of 2% finds its way to the cash register with me.
Still no one here, but since the posted Maghrib / Sunset time is only a day or so out of date, it suggests someone may be here later tonight.
OR this is one big Epic Fail [sic].
I must decide whether to bike over to another masjid in time for Isha and Tarawih.
I break my fast with the milk, walk around to the small parking lot in back and decide to pray there.
It was nice.
The neighbours on the east side of the masjid, stopped their rustling and though out of sight seemed cognizant of my performing the sunset prayer.
I decide to stick it out, stay in the area, and see what happens.
The first restaurant I walked into was pork heavy on the wall menu and gave me weird diner vibes.
On the bike ride here I had noticed Buddha Pie.
It was that or the sushi place, and raw fish wasn’t working its normal magic on me tonight for an impromptu Iftar Dinner.
Wait, do they even have menus inside this pizza joint?
A photo of Yonge Street at Gould Street just north of Dundas Street is on the opposite wall.
It may be from the early nineties.
Turns out they do have a one page printed menu.
I ask what the most Muslim pizza is on the menu as I can’t have pork.
John Allat, the co-owner, suggests vegetarian as his most Muslim pizza.
Personal size veggie pie it is ordered. Done.
He asks why I’m asking and I tell him about 30 Masjids, why I’m in the area, and my Epic Fail [sic] at not even thinking the Albanian Masjid would be closed for Maghrib.
Turns out he and his wife are neighbours of the Albanian Masjid and have been for six years since they moved into this unusual residential crossroad neighbourhood.
Runnymede Road and Annette Street. Busy bus routes. Busy bike routes.
Not quite part of The Junction, yet too far north to say they are part of High Park or even Bloor West Village.
All four corners have some commercial presence for a few doors in each direction on both sides of the street before petering out back into brick homes and the odd low rise.
Suddenly, John asks me what toppings and ingredients would make a Muslim pizza?
His question stumps me. He’s serious about adding it on the menu. I say I’ll come back after Ramadan with an answer.
I’ve inadvertantly ended up with Ramadan Homework !
Mounted Pizza Boxes have turned Buddha Pie‘s walls into a kiddie crayon art gallery.
It’s after 9 p.m.
People keep meandering in and asking if they’re closed. Not Yet, John’s wife and co-owner answers.
They’re only open during dinner rush hours of 5 and 9 pm or so, until the foot traffic winds up for the night.
While they don’t serve coffee at all any more, too much area competition, they only choose the most organic and fresh ingredients. No processed cheese here.
Iftar Dinner is served.
That didn’t take long. Almost wished I ordered the full size instead of personal size.
My globe travelling pocketgnomes Chico Mouse and A Girl Named Leroy definitely approve. But by the time I took them out of my jacket pocket, there wasn’t much left for them.
Facebook, Twitter (@eatBuddhaPie), QR Code… What other surprises does Buddha Pie have for me?
When it comes time to settle my bill, John will have none of it.
He says, Put your money away, Happy Ramadan!
He wouldn’t take my cash for what had turned out to be one the tastiest, most healthy pizzas I’ve enjoyed in memory.
* * *
Time to walk the one block back to the masjid.
InshAllah someone’s there, otherwise there is only time left to make Jami Mosque for Isha prayer.
Lights are ON!
Entering through the front door has all the warmth of stepping in as a guest into someone’s home. I feel a need to blurt out, I’m not Albanian, but I am Muslim to the brother sitting in the chair by the small desk. He welcomes me saying this masjid is for everybody, offering me some unwrapped boxed dates.
He is the Imam. Muhammad. He’s only been the Imam two months. Before that, he was posted in Dallas. Originally he was Imam for the Albanian Community near Paterson New Jersey. Paterson is among the most dynamic Muslim communities in The United States.
He’s brought some of that dynamism here, in a modest way. He shares his hope of re-opening weekend Islamic School in Albanian and Arabic for the children after Ramadan.
I ask why no one was here at Maghrib?
He himself lives six minutes away by car and breaks fast at home with his family. Muslims in the area do likewise, so no one ever comes here at Maghrib.
…well, almost no one.
The Masjid is closed for Fajr too.
Only three out of five daily prayers are performed here: Dhuhr, Asr, Isha.
The 10:30 pm Isha start time allows for Albanians who nowadays live in Scarborough and Mississauga to comfortably make Tarawih here on Annette Street.
I learn the Greater Toronto Area is home to about 25,000 Albanians. Only a few make it out to pray here on any regular basis.
Between 60 to 100 people attend Jumah Prayers on Friday. About 20 will shortly begin arriving for Isha and the full twenty rakats of Tarawih performed with short surahs. Three young kids also arrive, echoing my own childhood Tarawih memories in Jami Mosque.
Downstairs, a how-to-wudu collage in Albanian language is highlighted with each of the steps.
It’s tattered and I wonder how long it has been here.
The aluminum siding of the Masjid’s outer walls is in stark contrast to the pleasant surprise of walking into the main prayer hall.
The Mihrab is an elaborate wood carving. I end up trying to calculate the true floor plan and why I hadn’t noticed this from the outside.
Sisters have the entire second floor, but if the numbers are small enough, may pray here in the main hall behind the men.
The decorations are simple and the bright lights are soft and soothing. Hard to accept this as anything other than a hidden oasis in the city.
Around 10 p.m. and with about only a few brothers, all Albanian, present, Imam Muhammad dons the black robe and European style turban.
He begins reciting the Qur’an.
The Call to Isha Prayer.
We will end up with one full line of worshippers who stay for the full twenty rakats of Tarawih and the three for Witr.
It goes by quickly and easily.
The post-Witr is very similar to the experience in Fatih Mosque three nights before.
Unsurprising as both Turks and Albanians are from the same part of the World.
These were the BIGGEST wooden prayer beads I’d ever seen. Thirty threes.
There is a subtle symmetry as it matches the wood carved Mihrab.
Being the only non-Albanian tonight, I leave with a good feeling of being accepted unconditionally into someone’s home.
This is one of the first masjids in Toronto and it’s in the care of the first Muslim Community to make this city their new home.
The Albanian Society of Toronto became The Muslim Society of Toronto three generations ago under the vision of Recep “Reggie” Assim.
His important story deserves an entire separate blog post and InshAllah it’ll be blogged soon.
Outside The Albanian Muslim Society of Toronto, it’s a minute or two after midnight.
…Time for everyone to go home.