Day 30 – Remembering Steve Rockwell – Sheikh Deedat Centre – Downtown Mosque – Toronto

I could not let Ramadan 2020 expire without blogging about Steve Rockwell.

The following was posted May 2 2020 on Iqra.ca :

Muslim TV Host Steve Rockwell passes away

The host of a weekly Muslim TV show,

Mohamed Twahir,

also known as Steve Rockwell,

passed away on Saturday May, 2, 2020 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada at the age of 74

He was the founder of Sheik Deedat Centre in Toronto,

host of The Call of the Minaret show on television and owner of Worlds Biggest Jean Store and Rockwell Resort.

Born in Guyana,

he was the grandson of the late Imaam Moulvie Alabaksh,

son of the late Imaam Moulvie Yusuf and Naseeran Yusuf,

spouse of Sharon,

loving father of Riyad (Ameera), Refena (Noureddine),

grandfather of Abdul Rahman, Fatima and Ayah,

cherished brother of the late Hajii Imaam Zaakir, Habiban Nesha (brother-in-law of the late Imaam Sahadat Ali), Sherifun Nesha (brother-in-law of the late Imaam Shamir Khan, Isha, (brother-in-law of Mohamed Kalamadeen) and Azra (brother-in-law of Abdool Satar).

 

For some reason, web traffic on my previous blog stories mentioning Steve Rockwell suddenly had new page views . . .

Yet, I did not understand that Steve died until later on, perhaps around Middle of Ramadan 2020 when I visited Iqra.ca.

His TV Show, Call of The Minaret, was kinda weird to me.

I never watched it, beyond a minute or so.

People were watching, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

How do I know ?

His show kept coming up in passing conversations every now and then.

It wasn’t Reflections on Islam, but it was one more Islamic TV Show on the air, at a time when there weren’t that many.

Ramadan 2020 has seen an explosion in online video content from so many masjids the world over, be it livestream Qhutbahs on Twitter or Zoom Iftars later uploaded to youtube.

Before all that, there was Steve Rockwell.

Steve had a youtube channel, and only a few Call of The Minaret episodes were ever uploaded to it.

I’m embedding this one episode as it relates to Ramadan and Fasting . . .

 

 

Last Ramadan, 2019, I spent part of Day 19 and had Iftar on Night 20 at Sheikh Deedat Centre.

While this Pandemic Lockdown Ramadan 2020 has seen Massive Public Weekend Iftars at Toronto Area Masjids replaced with Drive-Thru Iftar Pickup,

Steve Rockwell had been handing out Take-Out Iftars to anyone who wanted or needed one, no questions asked, each previous Ramadan.

Many Ryerson University Students who needed to break their fast, pray Maghrib, then dash off to evening classes, would rely on these Take-Away Iftar trays.

Likewise for Muslim Professionals in Downtown Toronto who needed to catch their once-an-hour scheduled GO Train taking them home in the outer suburbs.

Last time I was there, this sign was posted on the wall . . .

” Last Ramadan on Bond Street “

Upon seeing this sign,

I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of purpose in needing to write down all the appreciation I had for Steve making a Muslim Prayer Space in Downtown Toronto.

He did a lot with so little.

But I never wrote that story, and got busy with the last ten nights and days of Ramadan 2019.

And now it’s the final few hours before the end of Ramadan 2020.

Maybe I don’t have to write anything more about Brother Steve Rockwell.

My previous blog entries remain readable, my previous photo blog entries are there to show the inside of the 100 Bond Street Masjid no longer there.

I can only think of this one thing I want, or need, to say to complete this Remembering Steve Rockwell blog post…

I can’t recall exactly when this happened, but the 100 Bond Street masjid was there.

At the time it was the only masjid in Downtown Toronto.

There was no way it could service the many hundreds and hundreds of Friday Prayer Muslim Worshippers for Jumah, but it did its best with multiple Qhutbahs through the afternoon.

Other Jumahs were taking place in rented locations around downtown Toronto, and those locations were only rented once a week on Fridays.

One location was The Cathedral Church of St. James.

A number of Muslims had made arrangements with the Church to use one of their multi-use rooms for Friday Prayer.

Those prayers were quick, maybe 15 minutes tops.

No wudu facilities, we had to have it before we arrived.

I attended a number of St James’ Jumahs when I could not make it out of downtown in time to a real masjid for Jumah Prayer.

( That Friday-only Congregation would eventually become one justification for today’s Masjid Toronto at Adelaide, immediately opposite the Church where these earlier Jumahs were held.

Before that, another nomadic Jumah Congregation would stop renting empty Downtown Toronto office spaces.

Pooling money and negotiation savvy together, Masjid Toronto at 168 Dundas Street West was the result.

They in turn would set up the Satellite Masjid Toronto at Adelaide Street. )

Well, at some point, the magazine Christianity Today published a story about how there were NO places for Muslims to pray in Toronto other than this one church.

On the face of it, the magazine article was completely incorrect.

I wrote a letter to the editor, and cited Steve Rockwell’s Masjid at 100 Bond Street, as evidence that yes, in addition to so many other masjids around Toronto, there was indeed a Masjid in Downtown Toronto.

The magazine never acknowledged my letter nor retracted the article.

Later on though, once Christianity Today had an online presence, they asked if they could post a image from my then very active photoblog.

I agreed, and for a week, this Muslim had a photo on the front webpage of Christianity Today.

It went unsaid, but in-between the lines of our email exchanges, I felt this was their way of making good.

Fine. Good enough.

Without Steve Rockwell and his second floor Masjid at 100 Bond Street, in Downtown Toronto, I could not have written that Letter to The Editor in earnest.

The next closest Masjids were Jami Mosque near Dundas and Bloor in the city’s west end, or Rhodes Avenue Masjid in the east end.

So that’s the way I remember Steve Rockwell.

A businessman who made a Masjid, two masjids in fact.

Somebody has to say the following publicly, so why not me?

Growing up in Toronto, there were MANY successful Muslim business people who had the connections, know-how, and money to establish masjids.

My dad could have, my family could have, but we never did. We donated when someone else started masjids, but what was stopping us from starting ?

Somehow, almost nobody put their money to seed masjids.

That’s why so many, many, many, Jumah-only rental locations persisted from the 1970s into the early 2000s.

While many others were renting, Steve was establishing.

Before 100 Bond Street, Steve had a rental space as a musallah on the second floor of the building at the north-west corner of Yonge and Dundas Streets.

Before the Public Adhans of Ramadan 2020,

Steve Rockwell would use his loudspeakers from those second story windows at his previous Yonge & Dundas masjid to broadcast the Call to Prayer.

Several times a day.

Yeah, Steve did that too.

Sometimes you could hear those Adhans five blocks away at Toronto City Hall.

Maybe as a reminder from the Man who once owned The World’s Biggest Jean Store whose building on the South East Corner of Yonge And Dundas was expropriated against his wishes to make way for Yonge-Dundas Square.

 


The World’s Biggest Jean Store Nov. 1998. Photo: Bessie Ng

“At the intersection of Yonge and Dundas,

dance music blares onto the streets from the World’s Biggest Jean Store.

The two-storey flea market is draped on the outside and inside with women’s clothing.

Steve Rockwell,

owner and building tenant,

has been at this intersection for the past 17 years.

He calls me into his small office on the second floor at the back to be interviewed.

He’s not too worried about his future,

as he has already staked out a new location in Toronto — he won’t reveal where.

Downtown needs development,

says Rockwell,

who is not disappointed with the progress the city is making.

“I’m not married to this building,” he says.

“I have more beef than anybody else,

but you can’t stand against progress.

But when you throw me out,

compensate me fairly.”

Rockwell can’t reveal how much he is being compensated.

No one will.

They are in negotiations with the city right now and all they can look forward to is a fair share.

The city has offered all owners and some tenants more than $30 million.

But lawyers for the owners say the land is worth between $75 million to $100 million,

much more than the price the city is willing to pay.”

The Eyeopener, November 11 1998

 

Embed from Getty Images

Steve Rockwell; right; manager of World’s Biggest Jeans Store on Yonge Street, December 29 1991.

“…The World’s Biggest Jean Store, whose “tired” facade was located on the southeast corner of Yonge and Dundas and which has now reopened on Victoria Street Lane,

just behind its old location.

The store was a major tourist attraction that provided the same kind of gritty Times Square atmosphere council now seeks to mimic.

Ditto the Licks Restaurant,

forced out of its downtown location.

Steve Rockwell,

owner of Rockwell Jeans,

provides the same discounted clothes favoured by inner-city kids,

although his new store’s traffic isn’t what it used to be.

And 30 staff members were laid off.

Rockwell agrees the city plan was a good one and thinks the public square is beautiful.

But he says the city botched the plan when it failed to open up the “best piece of real estate in the country to bidding.’

Originally, he was angered by expropriation and only got “peanuts” for his property,

but according to Rockwell it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to him.

He bought a building on Bond Street and contends it is now worth three times what he paid.

The city tried to take that building as well,

but according to Rockwell,

“God stopped them.”

Upstairs there’s a mosque with a congregation of 2,000.

Apparently,

no politician wants to be known for expropriating a house of worship to build a commercial development.”

NOW Magazine, April 24 2003

STEVE ROCKWELL (Muslim Preacher) passes away

“Br. Steve Rockwell (Mohamed Twahir), one of the pioneers of da’wah in Canada, passed away at the age of 74 years old on May 2/2020, during the holy month of Ramadan.

He was the founder of the Sheikh Deedat Center at 100 Bond Street in downtown Toronto, as well as the landmark store “World’s Biggest Jean Store” (later renamed “Rockwell Jeans”) which was originally situated on the southeast corner of Dundas Square on Yonge Street.

He also hosted the t.v. show “Call of the Minaret” on Vision TV.

Please remember to pray for his soul and to donate to a da’wah organization of your choice in his memory.

JazaakumAllah khairan.”

Sadat Anwar

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