History of the Winnipeg Central Mosque
Winnipeg Central Mosque: Founded in 2004 and still growing…
Over the years, the number of Muslims living and working in downtown Winnipeg has increased dramatically. Before 2004, the only mosque in Winnipeg was located in South St. Vital. There used to only be a few places in downtown Winnipeg where Muslims could attend Jumaa prayer, including the Health Sciences Centre, the University of Winnipeg, and the Pakistani Centre on Ross Avenue. Unfortunately, these locations were getting very crowded with increasing numbers of worshippers. As well, there was often no room for women and children to attend congregational prayers.
Many people felt the need for a new mosque in the downtown area. Dr. Mujibur Rahman, a long-time Winnipeg resident, local physician, former MIA (Manitoba Islamic Association) president and trustee and one of the founders of Al-Hijra Islamic School, was inspired to accomplish this task with Allah’s help. He took up the search for a suitable building and discovered 715 Ellice Avenue.
Dr. Rahman proposed the downtown mosque project to various community leaders and the Manitoba Islamic Association. However, at that time, the MIA was already heavily preoccupied with the Waverley Mosque (in the south end of Winnipeg) and therefore was not keen on undertaking yet another large capital project. However, given the great need, Dr. Mujibur Rahman decided to pursue the project nonetheless with the enthusiastic participation of his daughter, Dr. Jennifer Rahman, as well as long-time Winnipeg residents and businesspeople, Mr. Farhad Sultanpour and wife Glenda Lagadi. Together they raised the funds amongst themselves and the community and purchased 715 Ellice Avenue and the adjacent parking lots on March 2004 in the name of the newly formed corporation, “Winnipeg Central Mosque Inc.”
They decided to call it “Winnipeg Central Mosque” given its location in the city’s centre. They also wanted the name to reflect their vision of establishing a very local, “grassroots” facility that could be a welcoming space within a Canadian context both for Muslims and the community at large.
This building was formerly used as a restaurant and bar, and housed certain businesses such as the "Happy Vineyard" and the "Bamboo Bar and Grill." The owners of the building had not been able to sell it, following the abrupt departure of the most recent tenants. Consequently, 715 Ellice was vacant for 2 years, drawing crime to the area. The building was left in a state of disarray. But despite the mess, it was clear that the building had great potential. With its over 7500 square feet of space and adjacent 75 space car park, it was a special find in the heart of the city.
From March until October 2004, dedicated community volunteers spent almost every weekend cleaning and renovating the former “Bamboo Bar and Grill” into the “Winnipeg Central Mosque” or “WCM” as it is commonly referred to. Mr. Farhad Sultanpour and Dr. Jennifer Rahman, along with her mother Firdaus and sisters Saira and Nilufer, were instrumental in undertaking and arranging the necessary work. Two large bars were dismantled, restaurant furniture, kitchen equipment and dishes had to be cleaned and sold, bathroom fixtures, electrical fixtures and building systems were updated, fresh paint was applied to the inside and outside of the building, the flooring was changed and various other details were attended to in order to transform the old, abandoned restaurant into a tranquil place of prayer. Mrs. Firdaus Rahman lovingly arranged meals for the volunteers, which often included pizza and drinks generously donated every week by Mr. Sarowar Mian, proprietor of Flying Pizza on Sargent Avenue.
Many brothers and sisters spent hours doing menial tasks, from scrubbing the stone arches which were blackened after years of smoke exposure, to cleaning the toilets to scraping grease off the kitchen floors. The collaboration and energy of these first few months was exciting and inspiring. WCM was bringing together people who had lived in Winnipeg for many years, yet were meeting each other for the first time, because previously, they had no place to gather regularly. Many Somali and Bengali brothers and countless other men, women and children came diligently each week to clean. Despite the disarray of the unfinished surroundings during these weeks of cleaning, brothers and sisters would still pray at prayer times on temporary cardboard. Even then, the mosque felt peaceful. Finally after a few months of tasteful renovating and scouring the building from top to bottom, WCM opened its doors in October 2004, just in time for Ramadan (see “Extreme Renovation” in the Photo Gallery). Many Winnipeggers came to celebrate the mosque opening with the Muslim community at the official Open House on November 14, 2004.
Since the opening of WCM, many people in the West End neighbourhood have commented on how much the areas has improved due to decreased crime. The mosque’s presence has encouraged a family-friendly atmosphere. Alhumdulillah, over the years, the number of congregants at WCM has increased exponentially with hundreds of people attending Friday prayer every week. Worshippers are young and old, men and women, originating from many different countries, and from all walks of life. WCM is able to run with regular generous donations of these brothers and sisters.
WCM has no full-time imam. Various respected and educated members of the community lead Jumaa prayers. These local khateebs remind the worshippers to strive for excellence of character and elevated thought, and to contribute not only to the Muslim community but also to the community at large. Attitudes of tolerance and moderation are promoted and encouraged.
During the week, all five daily prayers are performed in congregation. Weekend classes are held throughout the year. School, interfaith and special interest groups visit WCM regularly. Various Muslim non-profit organizations and Canadian charities including the Islamic Social Services Association (ISSA), the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, the Canadian Muslim Leadership Institute (CMLI) and the Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute (CMWI) all regularly use WCM as a venue for their services and events. WCM also hosts public events such as the Winnipeg Comedy Festival’s “Diverse City” Community Concert Series 2011. In 2011, WCM will be starting a community organic garden through the support of the Daniel McIntyre / St. Matthews Community Association.
God willing, with community support, the Winnipeg Central Mosque will continue to grow and contribute positively to the cultural and spiritual fabric of Winnipeg.