Day 7 – Fatih Mosque

Alhumdulillah, Praise be to God-Alone. After one or two or three days worth of intentions, my Ramadan wish to Iftar in Fatih Mosque would finally be fulfilled.

This masjid is within comfortable walking distance south from what the local Business Improvement Area markets as the Gerrard Indian Bazaar. Everyone else calls it Little India. For those in the know, it’s Gerrard Street.

Today, Fatih Mosque’s Buddhist neighbours are also sprucing up their digs. Orange is the colour which induces more oxygen to the brain, better for contemplation, for meditation. I paused for a moment to allow my Buddhislamic tendencies to surface, before continuing down the street. From there, it’s a slippery slope in arriving at a Sufi state of mind for the rest of the evening. Islambuddhic anyone? Is Islambuddhic even a word? I wonder….

Fatih Mosque, Fatih Camii in Turkish, is located at 182 Rhodes Avenue, a tree-lined residential southbound one way street in the east end of Toronto.

Neighbouring houses on either side are also owned by the Masjid, allowing for a triple backyard, enough for a small makeshift playground area. The kids seem to make plenty use of it, leaving the grown-ups busy with Ibadah indoors.

A century ago, this building was a Gospel Hall. Later, it housed the Glasgow Rangers, a Scottish football team, Supporters Club. It’s final pre-masjid iteration was as an Orange Hall.

In my senior public school years, my mom ran a shop, Channan Fabrics, up the street and around the corner at 1620 Gerrard Street East. As a woman entrepreneur, she was the first to innovate and re-invent what was available in the Sari shops a few blocks west. She imported Japanese Saris, sold fabric by the yard, and introduced new pattern and styles.

By the recession in the early eighties, the other shops copied my mom’s strategy but by then everyone was losing money. My family closed Channan Fabrics. Consequently, my frequent Rhodes Avenue masjid visits became infrequent, then very infrequent.

The Islamic Foundation in the late eighties was in the process of building and migrating to a new masjid being built from the ground up, which back then was out in the middle of nowhere.

InshAllah, we’ll be visiting IFT for Iftar and blogging in depth about its key role in nurturing our city’s embryonic Muslim community into being a part of mainstream society before this Ramadan is out.

Fatih Mosque is now home to some members of the local Turkish Muslim community. They purchased this 3,000 square foot neighbourhood masjid from the Islamic Foundation of Toronto about twenty years ago.

Having been away from the Islamic Foundation for a very long time, one day in my mid teen years, I showed up to pray and was surprised to see a new sign with Turkish lettering, gone was the faded orange-ish outer peeling paint job, this was now Fatih Camii. Cami is pronounced Jami in English, it means congregation.

Inside this 50 by 100 foot building are two prayer halls. The main floor is for brothers. The second floor is a mixed use space used exclusively by sisters. They have tables as well as prayer space. Below the main prayer hall in the basement is a kitchen with small cafeteria area plus wudu and washroom facilities.

Common in Turkish masjids I have seen are a raised prayer spot for the Imam in front of the Mihrab. The minbar is often to the right of the congregation in the corner.

Sunset came quick enough and the Maghrib Adhan, call to prayer, was about to be given by the Imam.

In Downtown Toronto, Historic Kensington Market was, when my family emigrated from the U.K., known as Jewish Market. My dad would visit a friendly Kosher butcher in the heart of the market. He’d allow my dad to take live chickens he just bought in the front of the shop, and make them Zabiha Halal in the back of the shop. As a child, I was always too… chicken to go to the back of the shop to watch.

At one time, there were dozens and dozens of Synagogues around Jewish Market. As the make-up of the neighbourhood changed, so did the local city alderman. This new guy, got a by-law passed that banned live chickens in the market. No Kosher for my Cousins in Faith. No more Halal for us. Sucked. At least until another of my dad’s friend opened the first Halal Meat Store in the City. We’ll leave that story for 30 Restaurants…

I think my dad was really angry at City Hall. Here was a Muslim, my dad, ticked off at The City for denying a religious right to livelihood for the Jewish Community. That event may have been first time I became aware of Aldermen and how by-laws can screw minorities. It’s not that different today… just nowadays we call them Councillors.

One of the last active Synagogues in Kensington Market, is the Anshei Minsk Synagogue. The Rabbi is affectionately known as The Minsker.

With so few congregants nowadays, The Minsker, has been known to stand in front of his temple on St. Andrew Street and recruit passers-by to get a minyan. When told they aren’t Jewish, he’s responded with Nobody’s Perfect. People may then shrug their shoulders, walk in, don a kippah, and it’s all good.

Likewise, almost universally in Masjids, the roles of Imam and Muezzin are carried out by different individuals. In small groups though, there’s nothing wrong with one person fulfilling both Muslim prayer duties.

In Fatih Mosque tonight, Maghrib was one of those times.

One of the volunteers passed around dates, we all took one a piece.

After breaking fast and praying Maghrib, unlike previous years when I have attended Iftar here, we walked around to the backyard. There was a steady light rain through the evening hours, and it was still drip drop as we walked. I learned they now owned the house next door, 180 Rhodes Avenue, as well.

Unexpectedly, for the second night in a row, I would be joining brothers outside for our Iftar while the sisters had the run of the place inside for their Iftar. Unlike yesterday, there was enough seating under the tents for everyone. There had to be, as the rain suddenly picked up.

The appetizer was a traditional yogurt soup. Mighty tasty, without spices, and very enjoyable.

This ain’t the usual Masjid Food, where a families cook up a feast and take turns sponsoring an entire Iftar. This was different.  I’d learn later it’s actually sponsored by a halal Turkish restaurant. Yum. Yay!

During Iftar dinner, the table talk revolves around hot chilli peppers. To my right were two teenage Muslims for India. To my left, an Turkish brother closer to my age. He was downing these peppers like they were candy. The Desis found it way too firebreathing hot for their tongue.

What up with that?

Turks don’t eat spicy food! Spicy food belongs to the Indians up the street.

I was wrong. In the south eastern part of Turkey along the Syrian border, there is a region where really, really hot spices are part of the daily diet. This brother was from there and brought his own spices for Iftar.

He shared them with the young’uns, who couldn’t down them. Spicy Turkish Food. Who knew?

Watching this friendly arm-wrestling between who can eat Turkish chilli peppers and who couldn’t, I learn the Indian teenagers have been doing Iftar in a basement Musalah/Masjid of a new Halal restaurant up on Gerrard Street.

I ask them why they then walked to Fatih Mosque for Iftar?

“Because the food’s better.”

Back inside the prayer hall, I’m witnessing a most extraordinary thing.

A brother is reading Qur’an, completely utterly oblivious to the rampaging kids running around and play-fighting UFC. The other adults in the room also just allow the kids to be kids. They knew to let them burn off their energy, play, yell, scream, wrestle, whatever, while the grown-ups kept reading Qur’an with a laser beam focus… Other Masjids may want to pay attention to this approach.

About twenty minutes before Isha, the Muezzin/Imam took his place in the Mihrab and began reciting the Qur’an over the public address system, for the benefit of sisters upstairs as well no doubt.

Bur first, to shut the kids up, all one of the parents had to say was, Okay it’s time to stop. And in less than a minute they did. All of them. Wow!

The Qur’an was Sufi style hypnotic. It took you elsewhere if you only closed your eyes. Not every masjid has a Qur’an being recited as you arrive for Isha prayers. I always appreciate when they do. When done right, it’s hard not to.

With more than enough for a minyan, we now have a muezzin proper. We began praying Isha at 10:30 p.m.

Thirty Seven minutes later, we had done Isha AND twenty full rakats of Tarawih. I need to say that again: in 37 minutes we had prayed 24 full rakats.

Even with reciting short surahs, the smallest of all the chapters of the Qur’an, I think it was the fastest Tarawih, save for my college days, in my entire adult life.

The coolest part of praying Tarawih in Turkish Masjids? The evolving circle of handshaking. It’s the coolest thing. The Muezzin shakes the hand of the Imam, then stands to his right. People self-organize into a line and we each then shake the hands of the person in front of us who has shook the previous hands and then stands to the right of them. This continues, until the last person in line takes his place to the right of the second last person. The circle organically dissolves into standing conversations and hanging out time.

If you’ve never experienced this Tradition, find yourself a Turkish masjid for the full twenty plus three rakats witr prayer. I always look forward to this. It’s the coolest thing.

It’s nowhere close to midnight, and I’ve prayed 20 rakats Tarawih.

The rain has stopped, making the bike ride home a nice one.




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