Day 14 of Ramadan turned out to be the one where I broke fast in my neighbourhood masjid, the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre International, founded by Brother Shabbir Ally.
This would be my pit stop before continuing 30 Masjids into the second half of Ramadan…
The Shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith is up front and headlines the centre window.
It’s hard to miss and easy to read, even for those in a speeding car or bike heading east or west along busy Bloor Street west of Dufferin.
Below it are several of the Discover Islam posters.
The Discover Islam posters in the window have a local Ontario connection.
In the early nineties, about the time I was running ISL Software Canada and selling The Alim computer program, Muhammad Qadir had recently graduated from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He ended up working in the Falls Church, Virginia office of Amica, a printing company based out of Seattle, Washington.
Having learned enough about the printing business to get started, he threw his energy into getting these posters made and the wording vetted by the best scholars he could find. Almost twenty years later, Discover Islam posters are found in many masjids and elsewhere, the world over.
Yeah, so? What’s the big deal? A poster with pretty pictures and a few paragraphs.
Muslims, we got a great product, Islam… but we have lousy salespeople!
Or so the saying goes. If not lousy salespeople, into the 1980s, we definitely had lousy sales materials.
Meeting him back then on a business trip to Falls Church, Muhammad shared with me his vision of Dawah materials which addressed the very often tolerated Quality Gap that Muslims persisted in. Why were we settling for handing out information about Islam on flimsy paper often imported from the Indian sub-continent with its Anglo-Indian variety of English?
The desktop publishing revolution in the 1980s didn’t help that much in the beginning. Before these posters came about, much Islamic information handouts were crappy inky photocopies with random wording.
The posters proved so successful, it upped everyone’s game. Over the next decade, Dawah materials improved across the board. And everyone else, they simply invested in selecting the posters they needed, then put them on display. Easy peasy. Done.
And that’s just what Shabbir Ally did, and why these Discover Islam posters faded by the sun after many years, are still the only examples of Islamic information to grace his centre’s prominent window display. Well almost.
For this month, a Ramadan Schedule with its five daily prayer times including when to break the fast is also on display. Walking into the Dawah Centre to pray recently, I noticed a non-Muslim who was intently studying it. A timetable can also play a part in understanding Islam. Who knew?
And Muhammad Qadir? In the late 1990s, he began addressing the Quality Gap in Islamic Materials within the U.S. jail system.
By then, his series of posters had evolved into Discover Islam packages, each with small full colour foldable pamphlets, a quality teaching video about Islam including NBA Star Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets, in addition to the posters.
He sent these Discover Islam packages into almost all of the 94 Federal Prisons across the United States. By the end of the 1990s it was estimated, Muslims in U.S. Federal jails numbered about 6,500.
To discover what’s next in Dawah, his website DiscoverIslam.com is a good place to start.
It’s almost time to start to break the fast too.
I pop into the Dawah Centre office to ask about their Tahajjud Qiyam ul Layl, early morning prayers, during the last ten nights of Ramadan.
Most masjids have them at least on the night of the 27th. The Dawah Centre will indeed be open from about 2 a.m. for each of the last ten nights.
Taped to the office desk is the Huzaifa Mosque Guide. It’s a foldable map that lists names, addresses, and contact information for where to pray in the Greater Toronto Area. It’s been mildly updated each year. It’s handy though when you’re running out of time on a Friday to catch congregational Juma Prayers. People often call here to find out where else to pray.
The Dawah Centre has a bookstore, but no real library. It’s well stocked, but not as well bought.
Because of that, there was discussion to do away with it allowing for more prayer space. The office is still here, and I don’t think anyone’s going to change it for now.
Downstairs, is where all the action is at the moment.
It’s almost Iftar time and people are filling their plates.
Ramadan is the Month of The Qur’an.
It may be that reading a single Ayah or verse of the Qur’an in Ramadan, earns the same reward as reading the entire Qur’an during the rest of the year.
What better way to wait for Iftar then to read a few verses?
Samosa. Ginger Ale. Jalebi. Banana. Cake. Chick Peas. Dates. Eclectic Iftar to say the least.
The Maghrib Adhan, the sunset call to prayer, is heard from upstairs via the loudspeakers.
Everyone breaks their fast and the smiles break out too.
For the most part, the time allowed between the Adhan and the Iqama, the call to prayer and the standing for the prayer, is just enough for everyone to enjoy their little plate of Iftar without the need to rush to Maghrib prayers. This is something I’ve long liked about breaking fast here in years past.
I was often one of the loud-mouths-under-my-breath who would complain about the haphazard dumping of shoes in the main hallways of masjids. But here in the Dawah Centre, the sign saying to leave your shoes on the mat, not the floor, is mostly adhered to.
For some reason or another, this is one of the few shoe rack areas in GTA Masjids, that doesn’t bother me when I look at it.
Here, Iftar Dinner is served as we are told to sit at our tables. The sisters get first dibs on the plates of food and are served first. They have almost the same amount of table space for Iftar as do the brothers. There’s a barrier in between.
This being my local masjid, I’m one of the regulars and it’s easy to continue conversations that have been interrupted over the past few months for one reason or another.
I tell my table mate, Muhammad who’s from Montreal, about my 30 Masjids trek. His eyes light up as he recommends at least two Montreal Masjids to visit if I ever make it out there. I mention a new one I had visited last year, Aisha Mosque, and he hadn’t heard about it yet.
My childhood friend from Jami Mosque, Kaleem, joins our table. His dad opened the first Halal Meat butcher shop in the city. He asks what I’m up to and I tell him about 30 Masjids.
Kaleem then tells me he was sort of doing the same thing…
For the past three years, Kaleem had decided to pray Juma Salat, the Friday Congregational Prayer, in each of the 80 masjids in the Greater Toronto Area. His plan was that in three years, he would have prayed Juma in every masjid in the city.
After praying in a different masjid for about 50 Fridays, Kaleem found himself going back to BIC again and again. He now volunteers there every Friday, and is happy he’s abandoned his weekly pray-in-a-different-masjid journey, because it was what brought him to that masjid in the first place.
For a month with no eating nor drinking between dawn and sunset, we sure are working our way through plenty of water cooler tankfuls.
Isha followed by Tarawih.
It being the middle of Ramadan, there is mixed feeling of normalness and we’re already half-way through the month. I’m feeling it tonight, but it’s also because this is where I pray, along with Masjid Toronto, most often.
It’s a work day tomorrow morning, so after 8 rakats of Tarawih, many call it a night.
Here Idris is confirming a verse of the Qur’an after the night’s prayers with his tag-team partners.
Sometimes, where there is hardly anyone inside the main prayer hall, one could say this is Toronto’s other bowling alley masjid.
Shabbir Ally, the founder of the Dawah Centre was one of my first Alim customers. He bought the program when we were still selling a DOS version and Windows 3.11 wasn’t everywhere yet.
He used to give the occasional Juma Khutbah, Friday Sermon, in Jami Mosque before fundraising enough to begin his own project. He was first on Dovercourt Road in the middle of a residential area, before arriving here on more prominent Bloor Street.
Every masjid has a focus. Some masjids are only a place to pray on Friday. Other masjids are active on Friday and the weekends. Some are community centres. And then there’s Shabbir Ally.
Before Shabbir Ally, many masjids had Dawah programs, but only as a necessary after-thought, not as a primary focus.
He changed things by intentionally creating a space for doing just that. This year will mark ten years since he began his weekly television show, Let The Qur’an Speak.
That quality gap mentioned earlier?
Half of the problem was the random inconsistent wording of many flyers being handed out. Brother Shabbir addressed that. He invested a lot of effort to ensure a correct message was being communicated, succinctly. Having tweaked them over the years, his little readers can honestly be said to be a handbill equivalent of the giant Discover Islam posters.
In Shabbir Ally, Islam has good Salesman who knows his product.
Islam is a fast growing religion. Often when people choose Islam, they find barriers and walls in masjids when they want to learn more, or become a better Muslim. It’s often around then, that Buyer’s Remorse sets in.
That’s doesn’t happen in the Dawah Centre. It’s designed to have continual programs for new Muslims, both sisters and brothers. It’s sort of normal to expect a new Muslim accepting Islam on a Friday, then seeing them now and again on evenings or weekends.
Being on the Subway line, by Dufferin Station, definitely makes it easier for everyone to get to. For me, it’s only a short walk or bike ride away.
One of the Dawah Centre’s earliest regulars came up with an idea to make Ramadan Cool.
Though the brother is now based outside of Toronto, in Brampton, and hardly makes it down here anymore, his flyers still find their way onto the shelves here this Ramadan.
What also makes Ramadan cool in the Dawah Centre is that kids are allowed to be kids….
If you ask any of them, the kids might tell you the Dawah Centre itself is a great product too.
Short URL: http://30Masjids.ca/dawahcentre