The Memorandum of the Islamic Association of the Maritime Provinces of Canada (IAMP) was officially registered with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies of Nova Scotia on January 3, 1967 and the six individuals became the founders of the first legally registered Islamic organization in the Maritimes.
The official location of the newly formed Association was at 78 Crichton Avenue, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, the home of Dr. Merdsoy, the founding President. During the early part of 1967, the members of this infant organization got together for weekly prayers only on Sundays. These gatherings were small, usually held in the homes of the founding members. There were only a few dozen Muslim families in the HRM at the time.
The years following 1967 saw a significant growth in the number of immigrants especially from the Indian sub-continent. By 1968, the number of Muslims in the Halifax-Dartmouth area grew so large that it was no longer possible to hold prayers in anyone's home.
Around 1969, arrangements were made by the IAMP to hold its weekly Sunday afternoon Dhuhr prayers at the St Andrews United Church, located at the corner of Robie Street and Coburg Road in Halifax. Each week, members of the IAMP would bring in the prayer mats to cover the wooden floor of the church gymnasium where they would offer the Dhuhr prayers. This was followed by a brief talk on an Islamic topic, concluding with a cup of tea and snacks in the church kitchen. Around thirty people attended the Sunday program, running for about an hour. For larger annual gatherings such as Eid prayers, the IAMP would rent small community halls such as the one on top of the fire station across the Dartmouth General Hospital.
From the very inception of the IAMP, the members of the Muslim community felt the pressing need for a place of their own. The initiative to achieve this goal was taken by Dr. Nejat Coskun, MD and his wife Selma as well as Dr. Khalid Hameed, MD and his wife Carol. They jointly bought a double-lot land in Dartmouth on February 7 1968. This lot with the beautiful Albro Lake at the rear was in a new subdivision that was being developed at that time in Dartmouth. Once the land was assigned its civic number, 42 Leaman Drive, ownership was transferred to the IAMP on March 26, 1969.
Soon after, the members of the Association proceeded to develop building plans for the construction of an Islamic Centre. The plan included a masjid (mosque) and a multi-purpose community hall. However, when the architect completed the plan, the cost for its construction was found to be too far in excess of what the small community could afford.
In 1971, it was decided to build a scaled-down version of the building which would be functional enough to provide a good size prayer area, plus a couple of classrooms for Sunday school, an office with a library and a kitchenette in the foyer. The basement was to be finished in later years. A young immigrant by the name of Hisham Slim, a professional engineer, prepared a modified plan.
A building permit # 71-454 dated July 07, 1971 was issued by the city of Dartmouth authorizing the construction of the Islamic Centre on the lot. The following three members of the Executive of the IAMP, elected for the year 1971, faced the challenge to have the building constructed and completed in time for the up coming Eid prayers in the fall of 1971: Dr. Siraj Ahmad, MD, Mr. Syed M. Ali, P. Eng. and Mr.Hisham Slim, P. Eng.
The estimated cost of the 35 X 48 feet building was $25,000. By the grace of Allah and with the immense volunteer support of the members of IAMP, including some very good friends of the Muslim community, the building was completed within budget.
One person whose friendship knew no religious barriers deserves mention: the late Jagdish Kumar Sinha. He was a new immigrant who had come to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia from Patna, India in 1970. He volunteered, and, in fact did most of the exterior painting of the newly finished building in the fall of 1971, including the hazardous upper reaches of the two-story structure. The first Eid prayers in a newly constructed masjid of their own, at 42 Leaman Drive in Dartmouth, were offered in late fall of 1971. It is believed that the Dartmouth masjid is one of the first, if not the first, original masjid in Canada to be built from scratch on land owned by Muslims.
After the IAMP had the new masjid completed, the once-a-week program of Sunday Dhuhr salat (prayers) was expanded to include various other religious and social activities for the growing needs of the Muslim community. These included a regular Sunday Islamic School for the children, weekly lectures and talks on Islamic topics, potluck dinners, backyard picnics on the lake, boating in summer and even skating on the lake during the winter months.
In the early 1970s, the IAMP became much more formally organized and functional, publishing its own monthly Newsletter, providing assistance for halal meat and poultry, designating an Imam to perform marriage ceremonies and funeral services etc. Dr. Jamal Badawi, a professor at Saint Mary's University at the time in Halifax was appointed the first Imam of the IAMP.
The next major addition to the Dartmouth masjid was undertaken and donated in 1986 by Dr. K. Shamsul Hoque, one of the founding members of the IAMP. With the city of Dartmouth Building Permit # 86-782 dated June 26, 1986, the prayer area of the masjid was extended by about a third. A major expansion of the Dartmouth masjid was done in 2005 with addition of a dedicated prayer area and a multi-purpose hall for women. New washrooms, wudu area and a large parking lot were also constructed. Extra land was also purchased to expand the cemetery in Truro.
One of the other main focuses of the IAMP was to ensure that the Muslim children did not lose Islamic values. With this goal in mind, the weekly Sunday school was established immediately after building the masjid in 1971. To provide more room for Sunday school and other larger social events, the basement of the masjid was finished in 1973. Arif Husain, a engineer took the initiative in designing and getting the basement project fully completed.
With the passage of time, the Muslim community grew and by the early 1980s it was felt that the once-a-week Sunday school was insufficient in providing the much needed Islamic foundation to the Muslim children. Hence, in 1984, a full time Halifax-Dartmouth Islamic School was formally established and registered with the Nova Scotia Department of Education. The school started its operation at the Dartmouth masjid and in the initial years could only offer classes up to grade two.
The need to expand the Islamic School grew very critical. By 1996, the full-time Islamic School was hosting classes up to grade 6. However, because of the space limitations, the total number of students could not be increased beyond 30. In 1996, the IAMP was able to lease a much larger school building located at 6199/6225 Chebucto Road in Halifax to cater for the pressing needs of the fast growing Muslim community.
With this, the school enrolment immediately increased to over 70 students and the Islamic School was able to accept students up to grade 9. In order to give more autonomy and to achieve better efficiency, the structure and name of the Islamic School was changed to Maritime Muslim Academy (MMA) in 1998-1999. A full-time principal was also appointed to administer the affairs of the school in a more formal and efficient manner. By 1999, the student enrolment at MMA had increased to over 110 students and the Chebucto Road building appeared small for the number of students enrolled.
Recognizing the need for further growth, MMA was successful in working out a deal with the city of Halifax to buy not only the first Chebucto Road building but also to buy a second building located close to the first one. In February 2000, this landmark purchase of the two buildings located in the heart of Halifax had opened up new vistas for providing the much needed services to the Muslim community.
Copyright (c) 2007 IANS. All Rights Reserved.
(Reference: Article written by Syed M Ali and published in 2002 by the Association of Canadian Educators of East Indian Origin,Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in their book entitled The Quiet Nation Builders, ISBN No. 0-9731438-0-0)