Hundreds make connections with Victoria mosque

Hundreds of Victorians who checked out Victoria’s mosque on Saturday were greeted with As-Salaam-Alaikum, an Arabic phrase that translates to Peace be Unto You.

Some had nametags written in Arabic for them, while others tried on a hijab, or head scarf.

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The Masjid Al-Iman mosque was one of several across the province that opened their doors for B.C. Open Mosque Day, an annual event hosted by the B.C. Muslim Association to foster ties between Muslims and non-Muslims.

“The event is an opportunity to show people that Muslims are not dangerous and that terrorism is not what our religion stands for,” said Ismail Mohamed-Nur, 32, imam of the local mosque. “We are here to get rid of any misconceptions people may have and also to meet our neighbours.”

He said that while mosques are a place of worship, they are also a community gathering spot, a place for newcomers to learn about Canadian culture and make connections with the broader Muslim community, which numbers approximately 3,000 in Greater Victoria.

Lyle McKenzie, a pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Cross, said he was there as a show of solidarity with the imam, with whom he serves in the Multifaith Chaplains Service at the University of Victoria Interfaith Chapel.

“I am here through friendship and to stand together with the Muslim community in faith,” said McKenzie, 59.

Apart from Saturday, McKenzie said he has been at the mosque only twice before — at its grand opening in 2012 and at a rally to show support for the Muslim community following the mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City in 2017, where six worshippers were killed.

On Saturday, tables were set up with displays giving information on Islam and Muslims. Volunteers were on hand to answer questions.

Women were offered a chance to try on a hijab and volunteers patiently drew temporary henna tattoos on people’s hands.

The open house was just the excuse Ming Woon needed to walk in the mosque doors.

“I actually walk or drive by the mosque every day on my way to and from work,” said Woon, 40. “But this is the first time I have been inside.”

He came with his wife and two young children, Zhen, 6 and Tai, 3.

“I also figured that this was a good opportunity for the kids to learn about other cultures.”

Woon was born in Malaysia, which is a predominately Muslim country, so he was familiar with the faith.

“I am also a big fan of their food, too,” he said. “I had some just last week.”

The open house attracted no shortage of people wishing to sample cuisine on offer, which included dates and stuffed grape leaves. Others lined up to get a tag of their names spelled in Arabic.

The Masjid Al-Iman mosque is the first purpose-built mosque in Victoria, and includes an area for people to wash their hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head and feet before prayers, a ritual of purity in Islam called wudu. It’s the only mosque on Vancouver Island.

The main hall includes a mihrab, a semi-circular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the qibla — the direction of Mecca, which Muslims face when they pray five times a day.

The imam usually stands on a minbar, a raised platform on the left of the mihrab, when he recites from the Qur’an or addresses members of the congregation.

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