Day 3 – Masjid Al-Jannah – SLIFO – Sri Lanka Islamic Foundation of Ontario

Masjid Al Jannah, The Sri Lanka Islamic Foundation of Ontario (@SLIFO_CA).

They are located at 2201 Ellesmere Road, immediately east of Markham Road in Scarborough.

This masjid was on my list to visit as I had heard about it but had yet to visit it.

All it took were a few tweets back and forth with Hifaz Mahusoon (@hifaz_m) and this became the first Scarborough stop for 30 Masjids this year.

Because it’s Scarborough, parking is like air out here.

All the mono-colour playground equipment matches the yellow parking lines. For some reason this stood out for me. Downtown, we at least mix up the colours. Wonder if kids care about this?

The sisters’ entrance faces the parking lot. This may come in handy on very cold winter days during pick up and drop offs.

Once inside, I learn Masjid Al-Jannah began observing Ramadan Fast on Saturday.

And here’s something you don’t see every day.

Single mold plastic wudu facilities.

The green colour jumps right at you, even from up the stairs.

The design works very well, leaving little water being splashed around where it shouldn’t.

Wonder if these will become a trend?

Upstairs, I’ve prayed my Asr prayers. A study circle is wrapping up.

Less than one hour until Sunset and the time to break fast, one finds tranquility unusual for a Ramadan weekend evening inside a large prayer hall.

This suggests people live within very close walking distance and may arrive only moments before the Call to Prayer.

Nice to have this quiet time. Quite the contrast to immersion in Sufi Dhikr Circles and the Whirling Dervish only 24 hours ago.

Sunset arrives. Sitting in the second prayer hall, tonight we break fast with sticky dates and water.

Salat al-Maghrib. The Sunset Prayer.

Downstairs Iftar is served. The basement is divided in two. Over the partition is where sisters are breaking their fast. There are probably an equal number of men and women here.

We’re eating samosas, which are South Asian, but becoming universal more and more. The other Iftar finger foods while feeling South Asian are definitely Sri Lankan as is the style of lentil soup.

During and after Iftar I enjoy conversations with several of the volunteers who have helped make Masjid Al-Jannah a reality.

The brother across from me is named Rushdi, “Like Salman Rushdie” he jokes when we first introduce ourselves.

I learn a great deal about the Sri Lankan community during Iftar.

This is the largest of the three or four Sri Lankan Masjids in the GTA. There are about 1,000 Sri Lankan Muslim families in Toronto, with about 300 of them within proximity to this location.

Though there were already a few Muslim Sri Lankans in Toronto, the big influx came after 1983. The Canadian Government had relaxed the immigration requirement for refugees fleeing the war in their home country. Most of the refugees were Tamil. Along with them came Muslim Sri Lankans.

I learn that Muslim Sri Lankans lived throughout their home country, not just in any one concentrated area. Hence they were always a minority within other minorities.

Like the Bosnians, who are Muslims made up of both Serbian and Croatian origin, Sri Lankan Muslims have both Tamil and Sinhalese roots.

Being suspect by both sides during the Civil War, this has made life difficult in their home country.

One could be a Tamil Muslim or a Sinhalese Muslim speaking different languages, yet it mattered little. Also like the Bosnians, Islam was the identity that trumped other considerations.

I slip out for a quick Timmie’s run. I’ll need caffeine if I want to complete 20 rakats of taraweeh tonight.

Upon re-entering the Masjid, I am offered a cup of strong Sri Lankan tea. Like the Turkish cup of tea last night at the Sufi Centre, it is tasty and appreciated.

Coffee and Tea. No trouble with drowsiness during Taraweeh tonight!

I ask what their community would lose or miss had they not decided to go ahead with building this centre.

That’s easy.

It’s an institution for the next generation to ensure they aren’t lost. That they don’t lose their identity nor faith.

What was most surprising to the community themselves was how fast they were able to mobilize the funds to buy the building. They didn’t rely on overseas funding nor is the community made up of people who can write big cheques.

When they heard the building was available, members of the congregation debated whether they could pull together and pay the $3.4 Million price tag. They made a call out and raised enough to make an offer. In the end, the other side helped with a Shariah Compliant loan for six months to help seal the deal.

And who was the Other Side of the deal? The original owners of the building?

Freemasons.

Yep.

Masjid Al-Jannah was originally a Masonic Temple, which accounts for much of the slightly weird architecture. When they put the building on the market, their only stipulation was that it should continue as a place of worship.

Enter the Sri Lankan Muslims.

The Freemasons understood Muslims abhor usury/interest. They sold the building at market value yet helped with a short term Shariah Compliant loan.

Freemason and Islamic Finance. Who knew?

During Isha and Taraweeh Prayers, it’s obvious this is a cosmopolitan congregation.

Yes, the Sri Lankans run the place, but it serves over 500 Muslim families of other backgrounds who live within walking distance.

Masjid Al-Jannah then is both a destination masjid as well as a neighbourhood masjid.

Sri Lankans drive here from as far away as Ajax, while Somalis, Pakistanis, Arabs, walk across the street to pray here.

On this first Sunday night in Ramadan, one brother on a bike made his way from Downtown Toronto too.

@ @ are you at the masjid today? I am here in the space behind the main hall
@hifaz_m
Hifaz Mahusoon

Arriving somewhat after the set prayer time for Asr, somehow Brother Hifaz and myself missed meeting each other.

I am grateful for his invitation to visit and learn about Masjid Al-Jannah,  InshAllah he and I may meet later during Ramadan.

Many thanks to the Sri Lankan Brothers who welcomed me and were gracious with their time and patient with my questions, especially Sideek, Rushdi, Rimzy and Shiraz. I am grateful to all.


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