Whitehorse’s Muslim community is raising money to build the territory’s first mosque.
Yusuf Legere, a volunteer with the Yukon Muslims Society, says a mosque would be a focal point for Whitehorse’s growing Muslim population.
“It would sort of help the community grow,” he said. “It would be like a foundation for the community.”
Legere moved to Whitehorse from Nova Scotia in September, and said one of the first things he looked into before he made the move was whether there would be a place to pray.
He got in touch with Muhammad Javed, the society’s organizer, who told him that local Muslims pray in an office space in downtown Whitehorse.
“That was one of the deciding factors as to whether I would come or not,” he said.
But he thinks that having an actual mosque, instead of just a rented space, would help attract more Muslims to the territory.
He said a mosque is a venue for social gatherings and religious study, not just a place of worship.
The downtown office space isn’t ideal for those purposes, Legere said.
“It would be really ungainly to have large group there, like for a potluck or something like that. It would be doable, but it would be kind of uncomfortable.”
The Yukon Muslims Society website estimates that there are about 40 Muslim families in Whitehorse. Legere said the population is large enough now to be able to sustain a mosque, and the idea for the fundraiser has taken shape in the last year.
But the society has a long road ahead.
Thus far, Legere said, the local Muslim community has raised about $45,000. The society has a further $150,000-commitment from the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, a Manitoba-based Islamic charity. It hopes to raise another $200,000 to purchase the land, and estimates that building the mosque will cost another $300,000, a portion of which will also be provided by the foundation in Manitoba.
Legere said the society would like to purchase property in downtown Whitehorse. He said he’s not sure what the building will look like, but said it will be recognizably a mosque.
“I’m hoping that it’s going to be beautiful but not ostentatious, and big enough to hold everybody and a few more, but not so big that it causes problems trying to run it.”
This wouldn’t be the first mosque north of 60. In fact, Inuvik and Iqaluit already have mosques of their own, both built in partnership with the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation.
The Inuvik mosque opened in November 2010, after travelling nearly 4,000 kilometres by road and river from Manitoba. It replaced a one-bedroom trailer that was previously used as a place to pray.
The Iqaluit mosque cost about $800,000 to build, and opened its doors in February 2016.
But this would be a first for the Yukon. Legere said the Muslims Society hasn’t approached the City of Whitehorse or the Yukon government for financial support. But as a religious group, it is tax-exempt, meaning it won’t have to pay property taxes once the mosque is built.
“Once we get it up and running, we have to pay for heat and just the upkeep, so that’s kind of a donation in itself,” he said.
Legere said there’s no imam currently living in Whitehorse, but there are a few members of the Muslim community who are well-versed in the Qur’an. He said the job of leading Friday prayers rotates between a few people.
“It would be hard at this point to have a professional, like a scholar, come and stay here because he would have to have another job as well,” Legere explained.
But he said that as the community grows, it may be possible to provide more services to local Muslims, including renting a slaughterhouse to produce halal meat. And a mosque, he believes, will help to make that happen.
“The first step is to have a place to pray. And then the second step is to have an established mosque and then build the community around that. And then the community grows and establishes itself.”
Before moving to the Yukon, Legere worked on similar projects in Nova Scotia, and helped to get a mosque built in Halifax. He said a mosque in Whitehorse will feel like a second home.
“It’s a great place to recharge, refresh and just sort of renew yourself,” he said. “I believe that community should be more than just a place where a whole bunch of people live and work. The mosque gives… the Muslim community a chance to solidify and strengthen itself.”
And he said he’s “100 per cent” sure that a mosque will open its doors in Whitehorse one day.
“Oh, yeah, it’s going to happen,” he said. “I’ve only been here a few months, but I know that there’s a core group here that are very committed.”
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