Day 16 – Asalamalaykum Sister, do you own a farm?

Day 16. Regent Park.

Toronto Downtown Muslim Community. Omar Bin Khattab Mosque. 234 Parliament Street.

Whenever downtown Muslims say Par-li-a-ment.

Everyone knows exactly which masjid is meant.


I have a soft spot for this masjid. Make that, a very soft spot for this masjid.

In the summer of 2001, I accidentally ended up working for Statistics Canada. I was recruited to help solve the mess the 2001 Census had in Regent Park.

They hired multi-lingual canvassers, yet were stumped. The higher ups could never figure out why so few were answering the door when knocked upon.

Up til then, the best ever Census numbers for Regent Park was 68%.

That meant one of every three people living inside Regent Park were never counted.

Less money was being transferred by the Federal Governement to the Ontario Provincial Government to deliver public services, many of which would make a difference in the daily lives of people living here.

How much money?

$1,015 per person counted would be transferred from Ottawa to Queen’s Park earmarked for things like health and education per map block area. That’s $1,015 per person per year until the next Census count, five years out.

In other words, $5,075 would be missing in Regent Park for every person not counted.

This undercounting kept repeating itself, every five years. Regent Park people were shafted, every year, in public service delivery and really it was every day they were being short changed.

All in all, one million people may not have been counted in and around the Greater Toronto Area in 1996.

That’s over $5,000,000,000.00 in taxes paid to Ottawa for earmarked Public Services which were never delivered from Ottawa. The Feds can easily say they don’t have the numbers and get off the hook. Toronto IS subsidising the rest of the country.


But it’s our own fault for not filing in a Census form.

It took me two weeks to grasp this reality and what to do about it. I had a heart to heart with my supervisor, Linda. As long as I produced the numbers and got everyone counted in Regent Park, she had my back with her higher ups.

Alhumdulillah. Praise be to God Alone. We counted everyone.

For the rest of the summer, it was Groundhog Day: May 15 2001. The day of the Census.

I re-organized my team into two, got rid of the problem children who StatsCan reassigned elsewhere, changed around our hours to better fit the people we were supposed to count and went door knocking.

It was very simple. We’d knock on a door, step back 10 – 15 feet. Ask. Record. Repeat.

Whenever someone would answer the door often a Hijabi sister during the day, we’d begin with AsalamalayKum Sister, my name is… I am with Statistics Canada… We’re just counting the number people in the area… I need to ask you a few questions… Do you Own A Farm?

Immediately, stranger and census taker alike were sharing an inside joke at the folly of the federal government asking if someone in social housing owned a farm.

Before that, StatsCan was sending out tall white guys to door knock. They would stand right in front of the door. Waiting and waiting. Residents peeked through the curtain, seeing strangers, seldom was a door opened for them.

In Regent Park, we ended up counting 99.98%. In one problem building it was 100% counted.

Linda then gave my team massive overtime work by assigning us every undercounted neighbourhood in the city. A number of them were upper middle income. Which was paradoxical. We repeated the results.

The higher ups were ecstatic and invited us to a wrap party where the only beverage was beer. Not a can of soda pop in sight. Except for three census takers on my team, everyone was Muslim. They still didn’t get it.

I piled my team into the car, took everyone to Gerrard Street. We overdosed on samosa, sweets and lassi.

Inbetween all the door knocking in Regent Park, my team made all our prayers on time inside this masjid.

Many of the brothers seeing us pray, got to recognize us when it was their turn to answer the door.

There was a level of trust, having prayed beside or around us, that bore fruit when some people had to answer the Long Form Census.

Our counting results would have an eventual impact in the current Regent Park Revitalization. Now that hard numbers existed for this social housing ethnoburbia, financial commitments were made in earnest.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to meet Canada’s former chief statistician, Munir Sheikh.

I shared with him what I just shared with you.

He was very encouraged to hear about our Regent Park results a decade before, yet lamented the looming disaster in wake of the Federal Government’s decision to axe the mandatory Long Form Census.

A man of principle, he had no choice but to resign when the Feds put words into his and his department’s mouth.

Unlike the falsities of the Federal Government, in Regent Park tonight the words to be said aloud would be from the Qur’an.


In Makkah, there is a semi-circle which is what remains of an original outer wall of The Kaaba. If one prays between it and The Kaaba as it is today, it’s said one has prayed inside The Kaaba.

Underneath Parliament Street, we have something like that.

The peculiar nature of this rented out basement converted into a Musallah is that it has a prayer hall for the first few lines several steps lower than the larger main prayer hall.

One could say it was a vertical Mihrab with space for more than just the one who is leading prayers.

The Qur’an recitation for Tarawih is soothing. I lose myself in its recitation. My legs become tired and I decide after this 8th rakat, I’m calling it quits.

Then the Imam announces it’s time for Witr.

Pacing and the nature of tonight’s recitation actually had a full 20 rakats worth of Qur’an in 8 rakats, yet I had no idea of how much time had passed.

It’s the first such instance this year. I now recall why I would often make the extra effort to visit this masjid for Tarawih in Ramadans past.

A decade ago, this musallah was next door. Underneath what today is Kabul Farms supermarket.

About the time my Census team were working Regent Park, this congregation made the basement one door north its home.

The business owner at the time was gouging customers somewhat, and he began doing likewise with the musallah administration, raising the rent for no real reason.

The current basement, immediately next door was rented. Everyone would pray here, sisters and brothers. It was a very tight squeeze. But it was community first, and the building second.

The store owner, actually tried to keep his basement masjid open. It was ridiculous. Two doors leading to basements masjids beside each other. One overflowing. The other open for five time prayers and always empty.

Many Regent Park Muslims began shopping elsewhere. Kabul Farms who had a thriving supermarket up by TARIC Islamic Centre, stepped in a took over the now failing business.

Kabul lowered its prices. Customers returned. Both are still there today.

Eventually, the basement under Kabul Farms was re-rented. Today it’s used exclusively by the Sisters. Sisters now have a space on par with what the men have just next door.

The sound system carries the Adhan and Prayers into both prayer halls.

Regent Park now has several more Musallahs each within walking distance of each other.

Not everyone prays beside each other every night anymore, but after Tarawih, everyone goes to Tim Horton’s.

Unfortunately, like Statistics Canada a decade ago not understanding Regent Park, Tim Horton’s today also doesn’t Get it.

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