With the coming of the New Solar Year of 2020, people are reflecting on the past year and planning for the future. Almighty Allah revealed in His Last Testament: O you who believe, have the consciousness of Allah and letevery soul look to what it has put forward for tomorrow and fear Allah. Surely Allah is well aware of all that you do. And be not as those who forget Allah, so He made them forget themselves. Surely, they are the disobedient ones (Qur’an: Surah Al Hashr: 18-19 ).
The Muslim world is in a critical position on all levels and in some cases, Muslims are on the brink of destruction. In Canada and the West, Allah has blessed us with a type of material security but in this ever-changing world, safety is such a rare commodity. People who do not understand their history will be lost in the present and unable to make proper decisions for the future.
In Toronto, 2019 witnessed two significant events in the life of the Muslim community. The Islamic Foundation and the Jami Mosque celebrated milestones and the people who were involved in making them vital centers of Islamic culture and lifestyle. I attended the Islamic Foundation’s program but was surprised that it did not include the achievements of the early days and it left out the work of many of the key people who sacrificed so much for the development of the Muslim community.
I was not able to attend the Jami Mosque 50th anniversary event, as I was out of the country, but I was thankful to Allah to hear that many of its former leaders were present and in good health. However, I was saddened to hear that the period of 1985-1990 was given very little mention. This period was extremely vital to Toronto’s Muslim community. The things that were implemented need to be remembered so the latter generations are not robbed of valuable lessons.
When I returned from teaching and Dawah missions in the USA and the West Indies in 1984-5, I found the Jami Mosque in an unstable condition, having witnessed the firing and expulsion of several Imams and rapid growth in numbers. I accepted the position of Director (Imam in the eyes of the community) to give back to the community and establish the call to Allah.
By the mercy of Allah, thousands of Afghans, Bengalis, East Africans, Bosnians and other Muslims were emigrating to Canada and saw the Jami Mosque as a type of home away from home. The younger generation was in crisis since they were children of waves of Muslim workers, students and professionals who were now making North America their permanent home. They often struggled to come to terms with their faith in a vastly different society to their parent’s homeland.
But Jami Mosque wasn’t just for the youth, it was a beacon for many people from all walks of life. Along with a dedicated group of Muslim women, youth and professionals, we established the following programs and precedents:
- Regular circles of knowledge in different languages were allowed to flourish but everyone would sit together for the main talks and workshops.
- Different Islamic movements were allowed to have their specialized lessons taught to their followers as long as they were tolerant of other approaches to Islam.
- Islam and the world cultural days were established on Sundays to highlight the culture and heritage of different parts of the Muslim world.
- New Muslim classes were established and taught in a way that non-Muslims felt comfortable and able to ask questions.
- Dawah night was held on the 3rd Friday of every month and non-Muslims were encouraged to come to the Mosque, watch Muslims pray or hear a talk about an important issue in society and ask questions about Islam. This was highly successful and resulted in many people embracing Islam.
- Regular school visits to the Masjid were encouraged. This was not a new activity but along with new Muslim classes and open houses made the Jami Mosque more accessible to the public.
- A regular study circle for Muslim women was established on Sunday morning and eventually attracted large numbers of women.
- An-Nur Magazine was established to voice the opinions of the Muslim community and to highlight the suffering of Muslims throughout the world.
- Counseling was established in the Imam’s office that included professionals to deal with psychological, social and economic issues.
- A hotline for social issues was created which eventually led to the opening of a social services center called the Islamic Social Services and Resources Association (ISSRA) on Bloor Street near the Jami Mosque. ISSRA went on to help thousands of Muslims deal with a variety of social and economic issues.
- Muslim women’s involvement was strengthened and became a vital part of the Masjid’s programs.
- Muslim Scouts were established: Muslim Girl’s Circle for girls and Al-Murabitoon Scouts for the boys, using the methodology of scouting but putting it through the filter of Islam.
- Public outreach took the form of special classes in the public schools and lectures during important community events.
Besides the strides that were made in terms of programs and engagement, that time-period at Jami Mosque should be remembered for the important lessons the community addressed with courage and commitment. Here are some highlights:
- The approach to Khutbahs (Friday sermons) and the teaching, in general, was all-inclusive so that followers of all schools of Islamic jurisprudence were comfortable but Qur’an, Sunnah and finality of Prophethood was the basis.
- Tribalism was broken down through active involvement in each other’s issues and knowledge of each other’s history and culture.
- The Jami Mosque was transparent to the public and eventually became one of the key sources for the Media and journalists.
- Women felt free to come to the Mosque and express themselves to the leadership. A social committee was formed that enabled Muslim women to have direct input to the executive committee.
- Youth activities were encouraged and youth leadership started to emerge. There was an acceptance that there is no future without the direct involvement of young people and that the youth will eventually have to take the lead.
- Speaking truth to power in a respectful Islamic way led to thousands coming to the Jami Mosque. At one point on Fridays, every part of the Mosque was filled and people prayed in the parking lot and the stairs.
Hundreds of people remember this time (1984-1990) as a type of ‘golden age’ of the Jami Mosque, not because of materials but because of the fellowship, Brotherhood and Sisterhood that developed. All were welcome and comfortable. Unfortunately, many Islamic centers today are tribal oriented and not friendly to Muslims of other ethnic groups.
May Allah help us to recognize our strengths and weaknesses and to use our history as a reminder of what we can achieve and as a catalyst for truly lasting change.