The Islamic Association of Nova Scotia is one of the oldest Muslim organizations in Canada. It was formerly known as the Islamic Association of the Maritime Provinces of Canada. The origins of its establishment were in 1966 when a Memorandum of Association was signed on December 26, 1966 by the following six newly arrived Muslimim migrants to Nova Scotia:
- Dr. U.S. Merdsoy, PhD, President
- Dr. V. Ketene, MD, Secretary
- Dr. K. S. Hoque, MD, Director
- Dr. Khalid Hameed, MD, Director
- Dr. Fazlur Rahman, MD, Director
- Dr. Faiz A. Choudhari, MD, Director
The above Memorandum of the Islamic Association of the MaritimeProvinces of Canada (IAMP) was officially registered with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies of Nova Scotia on January 03, 1967 and the aforesaid six individuals thus became the founding fathers ofthe first legally registered Islamic organization in the Maritime provinces of Canada.
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 very small and were usually held in the homes of the founding members. The total number of Muslim families then livingin Halifax area was only a few dozen.
The years following 1967 saw a significant growth in the number of immigrants especially from the Indian sub-continent. Most of these newcomers were professionals including doctors, engineers, university professors and school teachers. By 1968 the number of Muslims in the Halifax-Dartmouth area grew so large that it was no more possible to hold prayer congregations in anyone's home.
Around 1969, arrangements were made by the IAMP to hold its weekly Sunday afternoon zuhr 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 and clean sheets to cover the wooden floor of the church gymnasium where they would offer the Zuhr prayers. This was usually followed by a brief talk on any Islamic topic and the program used to conclude with a cup of tea and snacks in the church kitchen. The number of people attending the Sunday program which ran for about an hour was around thirty. For larger annual gatherings such as Eid prayers, the IAMP used to rent small community halls like the one on top of the fire station across the Nova Scotia Hospital on Pleasant Street in Dartmouth.
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 the following two members, who jointly bought a double-lot land in Dartmouth on February 7 1968: Dr. Nejat Coskun, MD and his wife Selma and Dr. Khalid Hameed, MD and his wife Carol. This watershed lot with the beautiful AlbroLake at the rear was located in a new subdivision that was being developed at that time in Dartmouth. The City assigned the civicnumber of 42 Leaman Drive for this piece of land, which was then transferred by the aforesaid original buyers to the IAMP on March 26,1969.
After the land transfer to IAMP, the members of the Association proceeded to have building plans for the construction of an Islamic Centre. The plan included a mosque (with a dome and minaret) and a multi-purpose community hall. However, when the architect completed the plan, the price tag for its construction was found to be too far in excess of what the small community could afford. Also, since Islam forbids taking or giving interest in any form, the proposed building could not be financed through any conventional bank borrowing or mortgage.
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 class rooms for Sunday school, an office with alibrary and a kitchenette in the foyer. The basement was to be finished in later years. A young immigrant Hisham Slim, a professional engineer, prepared a new 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/Mosque 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 CAN. 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 outside painting of the newly finished building in the chilly fall weather of 1971, including the hazardous upper reaches of the two-storey structure. By virtually racing against time, the first Eid prayers in a newly constructed Mosque of their own, at 42 Leaman Drive in Dartmouth, were offered in late fall of 1971. It is believed that the Dartmouth Mosque is one of the first, if not the first, original mosque in Canada to be built from scratch on a virgin piece of land owned by Muslims.
After the IAMP had the new mosque completed, the once-a-week program of Sunday zuhr salat (prayers) was expanded to include various other religious and social activities for the growing needs of the Muslim community. These included 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 in Halifax was appointed the first Imam of the IAMP. Since then, he has painstakingly been performing the duties and responsibilities in his voluntary capacity.
The IAMP did not lose sight of the ultimate destiny of every living being. i.e. death. Luckily, there was already a small Syrian Muslim cemetery, which was established in May 1944 and was located on Bible Hill Road in Truro, Nova Scotia a distance of about 100 km from Halifax. The cemetery was owned and maintained by the Muslim settlers who had immigrated from Syria/Lebanon and settled around Truro/NewGlasgow/Pictou area in the early part of the twentieth century. The second generation Muslims of these settlers became members of the IAMP. They took an active role in making the IAMP the mother organization for Muslims, including those of Middle Eastern descent, who were already settled throughout little communities' in NovaScotia. It was through their initiative and cooperation that in the years 1968 and 1970, the IAMP was able to buy additional parcels of land around the existing Syrian Muslim cemetery in Truro, which was just about to run out of space. Thereafter, in 1971, the IAMP built another small mosque in Truro on the newly acquired parcel of land, which was contiguous to the existing cemetery, so the funeral prayers and other religious activities could be undertaken there.
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 Mosque in 1971. Even though there were only two small rooms on the second floor to serve as classrooms, dedicated members of the IAMP volunteered their time and effort to teach the little kids the basics of Islam. To provide more room for Sunday school and other larger social events, the basement of the Mosque was finished in 1973. Arif Husain, a professional engineer took the initiative in designing and getting the basement project fully completed under his supervision.
With the passage of time, the Muslim community grew up and by the early 1980s it was felt that the once-a-week Sunday school was not enough to provide 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 Mosque and in the initial years could only offer classes upto Grade 2. Volunteers who in some cases were trained teachers licensed by the Nova Scotia Department of Education, provided the education.
The next major addition to the Dartmouth Mosque 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 Mosque was extended by about a third. New plush quality carpeting was also installed in the entire area.
In the 1990s, Canada opened its immigration doors to entrepreneurs. With the upheaval caused by the Gulf war, a large number of Arabic speaking Muslim immigrants arrived in Nova Scotia. The need to expand the Islamic School grew very critical. By 1996, the full-time Islamic School (still housed in the Dartmouth Mosque) was hosting classes upto 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 from the City of Halifax a much larger schoolbuilding located at 6199/6225 Chebucto Road in Halifax to cater for the pressing needs of the fast growing Muslim community. The lease agreement had an option for the IAMP to buy this building later on, if required.
With the leasing of the Chebucto Road building in 1996, 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 the MMA had increased to over 110 students and even the Chebucto Road building appeared small for the number of students enrolled.
Recognizing the need for further growth, the 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 forproviding the much-needed services to the Muslim community. Plans are currently underway to determine the most cost effective means that would maximize the use of the two newly bought buildings to provide not only a fully developed Islamic High School with a science laboratory, gymnasium, canteen etc. but to make available to theMuslim community a much larger Mosque and a community center.
A major expansion of the Dartmouth mosque was done in 2005 with addition of a dedicated prayer area and a multi-purpose hall for ladies. New washrooms, wudu area and a large parking lot were also constructed. An extra piece of land was also purchased to expand the cemetery in Truro.
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 NationBuilders, ISBN No. 0-9731438-0-0)