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New Book Celebrates Canada’s First Mosque 80th Anniversary

EDMONTON, Alberta – A new book by religious scholar Earle Waugh was released this month to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Al-Rashid Mosque,

The mosque, regarded as Canada’s first and one of the earliest in North America, has been described as an enduring success story of the community.

“For years and years, I’ve known the community there,” Waugh told St. Albert Gazette, remembering his first encounters with its key players back in the 1980s.

“I’ve often gone there to study certain aspects of Islamic life in Canada. I’ve written a number of articles on them. I worked for a long time with one of the stalwarts of that community, Soraya Hafez, who incidentally has a school named after her now. She was really good at laying the guilt on.

“One time, she said, ‘You know, this book has to be written and you ought to do it. This is something you have to do to pay the community back for all the articles you’ve written on it.’ No pressure at all,” he laughed. “She was a very good friend.”

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Al-Rashid Mosque has played a central role in Edmonton’s growth and in the growth of the Muslim community in general.

The new book looks at many of the inspiring people who worked to make it happen. It was first built during the depth of the Depression of the 1930s and in the period right before the start of the Second World War.

Today – Dec. 12, 2018 – marks its 80th anniversary for its construction.

The author said the Al-Rashid community has always been strongly represented by women leaders.

“This is unusual. It is really off the wall when you get the kind of impression that people have of Islam. Whether they wear the hijab or not is not critical. What is critical there is Muslim women who have been part and parcel of the growth of this community right from the get-go,” Waugh said.

“Without these women, this community never would have gone ahead. They have a very solid place for the role of women in this community. That’s impressive.”

New Book Celebrates Canada’s First Mosque 80th Anniversary - About Islam

Success Story

Along with the mosque, female Muslim figures helped greatly in the establishment of the first Islamic groups in Edmonton.

For example, Dr. Lila Fahlmann, a longtime teacher with the Edmonton Public School Board, established the Canadian Muslim Women’s Association, which was one of the earliest organizations that established a national Muslim women’s voice. She was also the first Muslim to receive the Order of Canada.

There was also Hilwie Hamdon, the Lebanese-born immigrant who led the early efforts to build the Al-Rashid.

“She was one of the early founders of the community and she was a dynamo. John Fry, the mayor of Edmonton at the time, said, ‘Look I’ve got a lot here but I’m not going to sell it to you because you don’t have five grand.’ Hilwie said, ‘We’ll get it.’”

She went door to door, getting the support of Muslims, Christians, Jews, and “everybody” in fact and convinced people of all faiths across Alberta and Saskatchewan to donate to the mosque.

In return, the mosque became a hub of activity that hosted community dinners. To Waugh, they exemplify the spirit of multiculturalism and pluralism that this country is known for.

“From an outside perspective, you have to say that something very moving and very important has been going on. I think that kind of cultural focus of being a community organization has really been one of the outstanding things,” he said.

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