In Islamic Studies this year, grade 8 students have covered a plethora of pertinent topics. From basic logic to understanding the foundations of our knowledge, to various theological and legal principles that can help guide us in our day-to-day lives as Muslims. In addition, we also addressed in detail numerous topics related to Muslim identity, feminism, colonialism, and what it means to be a Muslim in the West. During the last few weeks of our Islamic Studies class, we wrapped up our lessons by introducing the concept of Oral History. Students were taught the importance of learning from our elders, how their experiences contain much wisdom and how it can lead us to live a better and more successful future. Part of that unit also included lessons on learning about the Muslim community in Toronto. Who were the very first Muslims who came to Toronto? What was their life like? Where did they gather for religious activities? What was their belief system like? How did things change as Muslims continued to grow in Toronto? These were some of the discussions we explored over a few lessons.
To reinforce our lessons, we created a customized trip to Downtown, Toronto to actually visit and see these early mosques and communities of Toronto and to really understand the dynamics, their sacrifices, and identity struggles. Below is an outline of our trip.
1. The Forgotten Mosque
Our trip started at the “Forgotten Mosque”, on 3047 Dundas Street. This center or mosque was founded in 1961 by an Albanian Muslim named Rajjab Assim under the banner of the Muslim Society of Toronto (which was opened in 1957). We discussed at length why the early Muslims in Toronto did not happen to be Arabs, or South Asians, but rather Eastern Europeans from Albania. The “Forgotten Mosque” was originally a leather shop and was purchased with a downpayment of $10,000 and the rest on mortgage.
By the 1960s as Canada changed its immigration policies and more Muslims began to move to Canada, this place could no longer address the needs of the growing community. It was sold and the money was used to purchase a Presbyterian Church that was turned into a mosque, also known as the Jami Mosque. The “Forgotten Mosque” was turned into a restaurant, but it seems that has also now shut down.
2. The Jami Mosque
In February 1969 the Muslim community officially moved to 56 Boustead Ave, to what is known as the first-ever mosque in Toronto. In class, students were shown CBC footage of the opening ceremony of the mosque and had a good idea of the role of this mosque in the Toronto Muslim community.
3. The Albanian Mosque
As more and more Muslims began to come to Toronto from the East, conflicts between early Muslim immigrants and newcomers began to arise. The earlier Muslims, especially the Albanian community, were a lot more liberal and secular in their conduct & ideas and new Muslim immigrants were a lot more conservative in their values. This led to a conflict and the Albanian community decided to create a separate mosque not too far away from the Jami Mosque. This is today known as the Albanian Muslims Society of Toronto.
4. Highpark Zoo & Friday Prayers at Hyderi Congregation
After visiting these three locations, we took a break and visited the Highpark Zoo. Later we went to the food court of Eaton Center and students enjoyed their lunch. After eating, we made our way to 116 Bond Street where a few individuals from the Shi’a community have rented out the basement of a church for weekly Friday prayers. Several local scholars are generally invited to lead prayers over there. Our students got to see Shi’i presence in downtown and were inspired by the activities happening there.
5. Visiting the TMA Office at Toronto Metropolitan University
After performing the Friday prayers, executives from the Thaqalayn Muslim Association – the Shi’i student council – at the Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson University) took our students to the university’s student center. There, students saw the office of the TMA, and learned about the different activities being organized by the TMA during the year. We would like to thank the executives for taking time out of their schedules for coordinating this aspect of the trip with us.