New Hamilton Downtown Mosque opens its doors

New Hamilton Downtown Mosque opens its doors
(Friday, September 18, 2015) 13:12

The Hamilton Downtown Mosque is officially opening the doors of its new York Boulevard facility — a 35,000-square-foot space to accommodate a growing Muslim population of nearly 5,000 in the city's core.

It's been a long journey for the mosque, which originally wanted to expand its former Wilson Street facility. But when the adjacent property was sold for a new Hamilton police investigative services building, they had to look elsewhere.

They bought the site at 221 York Blvd., a former gym, in February 2014 and the property has been under construction since, with community members raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the project.

Imam Sayed Tora, who has been the downtown mosque's spiritual leader for 12 years, said he is very happy with where they've landed.

"Sometimes things end up the way they're supposed to," he said.

Inside the main prayer room, a sparkling chandelier hangs from the ceiling and plush Turkish carpet covers the floor where men gather for prayers each day. It can fit upwards of 600.

Through a door and behind windows is a similar, but smaller, prayer room for women that also holds a children's room. Tora said it's a significant improvement from their old facility, which only had room for about 30 women at a time.

The mosque will host a grand opening with tours, lunch, speeches and a ribbon-cutting Friday. Tora said the event is open to all members of the community, including neighbours.

At the back end of the building, the community hall is still being finished.

The community has raised a significant amount of money for the building, with about $500,000 raised during Ramadan alone.

Wahed Al-Jabry, president of the mosque's board, said they still owe $1.7 million for the property, not including future phases of construction work. Their loan agreement requires $25,000 monthly payments.

He said the mosque has been reaching out for donations across Canada and abroad and so far, they have been very fortunate.

They moved into the new facility in July and have been holding prayers there while still trying to sell the property on Wilson.

Phase 2 of construction will include adding decorative archways to the men's, women's and community hall entrances. Tora said it's important that they contribute to the downtown revitalization by making the building attractive.

They are also working to set up a food bank and hope to open a full-time school next September.

While they're waiting for that construction to happen, the mosque is running a youth drop-in and small gym on the yet-to-be-renovated 10,000-square-foot second floor.

The Muslim population in Hamilton is always growing, fuelled largely by newcomers settling here, Tora said. The influx has been steady since about 2006, he said, with many families coming from Somali, Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently, Syria.

He recognizes the mosque is often a first point of community contact and he hopes, from the York Boulevard site, they can help connect these families with other resources in the community.

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