Day 5 – 325 Gerrard Street – Regent Park

It’s Tuesday. Day 5.

I’ve ended up breaking fast in one masjid and praying Isha plus Taraweeh in another.

My intention was to break fast and stay for the full Taraweeh prayers in one of the Regent Park Masjids which didn’t work out back on Day 1.

It always works out though. I’m back inside Sheikh Deedat Centre / Downtown Mosque which I wrote about on Day 4 last year.

I hadn’t planned it this way. But this is what happened last year too. I broke fast here and prayed Isha and Taraweeh at the Dawah Centre instead.

It’s less crowded tonight. The air conditioning now works. People are still coming for take-out Iftar. Beyond that, much remains the same. There isn’t any more to add this year.

After Iftar, Maghrib and grabbing a strong coffee a block away, I bike over to 325 Gerrard Street.

Upon arrival, the door is locked. I’m early. But so are a number of sisters and their children. We all wait in different hallways leading to the common landing.

It takes a few minutes for someone to arrive who has a key.

Staring at the stairwell, it reminds me of every stained, smelly, dirty, far forgotten corner in apartment buildings that people only go when they get lost on their way to the underground parking lot.

Except, these steps and doorway are none of those things. No smells, it is clean, it’s far from being forgotten and sees people coming and going at least five times each day.

Still, all my imagination can conceive of, is a simple rectangular room with thin hard carpeting and for some reason, painted light blue walls.

Having not arrived with wudu, I was a bit apprehensive. Would I be directed to the laundry room where I could perform the ritual ablutions necessary before prayer?

I ask the masjid newbie question of Brother where can I make wudu to the person who just unlocked the door. While children place their shoes neatly upon the racks, he informs me Yes you can do wudu just around the wall to the left. The sisters area is to the right…

Awestruck.

Dumbfounded.

How else to explain what I am seeing, where I am standing, how this moment is an experience.

The wudu facilities were made of a hodge podge of materials, yet could hold its own design-wise and function-wise against most larger well funded masjids’ wudu set-ups in the city.

The entire hallway is nearly fully carpeted. Functioning washrooms. Information boards. Bright lights. Every bit of space has found a useful purpose to help in one’s worship. The floor plan is innovative and elegant.

Pipes of all sizes jut from anywhere and everywhere, yet they weave themselves into the architecture as if they just belong there. Numerous buckets cling from ceiling pipes like hanging flower pots. Yet it’s leaky pipes or condensation they service–not floral arrangements.

Later, I would notice buckets placed on the floor in random spots echoing the same purpose, to catch water from overhead leaky pipes or perhaps condensation.

The walls, pipes and pillars are eggshell white, not the basement prison light blue I had imagined only moments ago on the other side of the door.

The bookshelves are fully stocked, with Islamic books in Bengali, Arabic, and a few in English.

Carpet is plush and bouncey. Performing prostrations during prayer, invariably microfibers find their way into my breathing. That new carpet smell still lingers and everything feels new.

Adhan Al-Isha, Night Call to Prayer is read aloud.

If I am not mistaken, by the same Elder who I met back on Friday tending the community garden.

Initially, I am sitting in one of the back rows. But am invited to sit in the front line.  Doing so brings surprise upon surprise. It’s obvious I am the stranger, yet am received as a guest. People trickle into the prayer hall, some in pajama bottoms. Hey, if you lived in the same building, wouldn’t you?

They bring out a two-four of plastic water bottles and begin handing them out. No big deal. This happens sometimes at other masjids before Taraweeh begins. But the water bottles are all chilled.

That extra touch, that going of just the extra distance makes all the difference. Sipping cold water in-between rakats will definitely help one concetrate on the Qur’an being read aloud by the Taraweeh leader.

Those Taraweeh leaders are a tag-team of youth who have memorized the Qur’an. The first four rakats are recited so slowly, with full tajweed, the elongated proper pronounciation of every letter and Qur’an syllable. It needs the better part of twenty minutes to complete these initial rakats.

The next tag team Taraweeher reads four rakat at Mach Two with his tongue on fire.

He was so fast, one really had to concentrate and listen to understand what was being read aloud. He is barely above puberty, yet has memorized much of the Qur’an in Arabic.

Reciters who follow take a more measured pace. We complete Witr prayers before midnight.

The bulletin board lists Ramadan Timetables. BOTH Ramadan Timetables. The one that begins on Friday, and the one that began on Saturday. Never have I seen both Moonsighting and Calculation Ramadan timetables pinned to a masjid notice board at once.

Then, I have never seen an abandoned by management apartment building basement hallways and storage rooms transformed into an elegant temporary masjid.

Temporary because with the Regent Park Revitalization currently underway, these decades old blighted three and six storey low-rises will soon give way to mixed income Condo towers and perhaps Inclusive Housing.

How did this prayer space come about?

Since these buildings are due to be torn down, no new capital investment would ever be made. The basements were left in a sorry state. Yet Muslims living in Regent needed places to pray the five daily prayers. Only two short years ago, tenants sought and got permission to redo the basement at their own cost. Their result speaks volumes.

It contradicts much of what people may think about the resourcefulness of people in TCHC (Toronto Community Housing Corporation) social housing.

But I must start with myself. I thought I knew Regent Park. I got game. How ignorant until a couple of hours ago and how wrong I was. This too is part of Ramadan. To humble oneself with an acknowledgement and keep an awareness of all that we do not know.

This masjid will be gone shortly as this building will be torn down in the very near future. I ask brothers what the name of this masjid is. For this blog post title at the very least, is my reason in asking. Everyone looks puzzled. Name? This place doesn’t have a name, it’s… just where everyone goes to pray. No name, no formal name, is needed. Everyone who needs to know where it is, just knows where it is. That’s enough, isn’t it?

For now, there are two more basement masjids, one a few buildings over, another on Sumach Street.

At the end of Ramadan night 5, it turns out there are still masjids to visit in Regent Park this year.

All temporary. The other two are as nice as this one I’m told. One of them is even bigger.


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