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Community members fear loss of Toronto Islamic Centre due to funding concerns

Muslim community members who attend The Toronto Islamic Centre mosque in downtown Toronto fear they could lose an important space if enough funding isn’t garnered for the owners to retain the property.

And while many residents are stepping up to donate, there’s constant stress and uncertainty whenever a payment is due, owners told CBC Toronto. 

“It’s not only important for the community, it’s important for Canada,” said Asad Chaudry, who has been attending services at the centre for a decade. 

He says the mosque represents one of many diverse communities that matter to the social fabric of Toronto.

“You see people from every background … this place is a mini Canada. And we need to save it,” said Chaudry.

Community wanted place of their own: imam

The centre moved into the location at Yonge Street and Davenport Road in March 2019, after the original location that the owners were renting at 575 Yonge Street was sold. 

By September this year, they decided it would be worth the investment to buy the building rather than paying the $47,000 a month required for rent, said Shaffni Nalir, the imam for the mosque and the general manager. 

A man
Shaffni Nalir, the imam and general manager of the mosque, says they wanted to purchase the space so that the community could have a fixed place to worship without worrying about the lease running out. (Guillaume Cottin/CBC)

“We didn’t want to be in a situation where the lease would run out,” he said. “There was something within the community calling for its own location, a place where we couldn’t get removed out of.”

They paid their first $500,000 in September as a security deposit. Since then, they’ve paid another $3 million all through community donations and interest-free loans from the community. Their next payment is for $600,000 and is due in April.

Nalir says the mosque follows religious beliefs that include restrictions on paying and receiving interest, which is why they didn’t pursue a mortgage.

Though not a universal belief among all who practise Islam, many Muslims are seeking Islamic mortgages that are structured differently.

Donors have come forward

Inside the mosque Thursday night, dozens of worshippers participated in prayers and children engaged in Islamic teachings.

Abd-ur-rehman Chaudhry, 11,  told CBC Toronto that he spends a lot of time at the mosque and has made many friends.

“I’ve learned so much I cannot describe everything,” he said. “If this masjid wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have learned how to play soccer. I wouldn’t have learned a lot of history. I wouldn’t have learned lots of things about Islam, I would have lost so much.”

Nalir says the mosque has offered programming for the different needs of the community.

People kneel in prayer
Worshippers pray at The Toronto Islamic Centre on Dec. 28, 2023. The owners of the mosque say they are relying on community donations to keep the space. (Guillaume Cottin/CBC)

They’ve launched classes for emotional wellbeing and the space is given to women twice a week so they can use it however they want, he explained.

The total price for the space, which is around 10,000 square feet, is $8.9 million, said Nalir.

But even when they’ve found themselves short and are “pulling our hair” trying to figure out how to make the next payment, community members have stepped up, he said.  One man gave $300,000 in August. 

“We are so focused on taking care of the community that the community is coming back to take care of the mosque,” he said. 

He says he hopes that continues so that the mosque can stay afloat.

“I keep telling myself to keep staying focused, trying my best to do whatever I need to do, and then help will come,” he said.

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