The History of Muslims in Canada

By Mohamed Sheikh Hasan, Writer and Publisher

When it comes to landmass, Canada was endowed to settle the second– largest land in the world. It occupies a total of 9,984,67 KM land area. Similarly, Canada has the longest coastline and marine territory in the world, which is measuring 125, 567 miles (202, 080 kilometers), seconded by Indonesia which is totals at 99,083 km/61,567 miles. This makes Canada the first and the second– largest country in the world.

Principally, Muslims must be found in every spot in the world as freelance ambassadors to each of the world’s inhabitants. Hence, Canada is one of the few countries where Muslims arrived lately. The first known Muslims, applying the Message sent with Mohammad Ibnu Abdillah (Peace Be Upon Him), reached their destination in Canada in 1851. According to the Canadian population censuses and municipality records, there were four Muslims in Canada in 1854. But the number slowly grew by reaching 13 persons in 1871, and within a half of a century (in 1901) the number reached 47 persons. The graph of Muslims’ growth showed a significant increase in 1921 by reaching 478 persons.

That remarkable increase was as a result of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse on November 1, 1922. During that time, many Turkish politicians and wealthy families migrated in Canada for both safety and a better lifestyle. Most of them were employed

in Canada while others became successful businessmen.

Taking advantage of the cheap land properties, at that time, they purchased residential houses and became landowners, especially in the West of Canada where land was cheaper and labor/manpower was needed. Lac La Biche, Alberta was recognized as partially Muslim town when the Muslim community settled and officially established their own center therein.

Since then, the Muslim community’s real history in Canada began and became popular about 155 years ago as argued by Hassam Munir (Spectator 2018). In Ontario, the most populated province, the researcher found that the oldest community was established in London Ontario.

Even though they were the minority class, numerous members of those immigrant Muslims became productive and contributed to the advancement of their societies both in Canada and in their countries of origin.

For instance, Ali Abouchadi (also known as Alex Hamilton) came to Canada at the age of 12 years old with his uncle from Lebanon in 1905. He initially worked as a peddler and fur trader and later on established his personal grocery in Lac La Biche, Alberta, Canada. His commerce became one of the most booming businesses in the city, simply because of his friendly behavior. As he was turning 16 years old, his uncle decided to return to Lebanon, but Ali had chosen to remain in Canada and continue trading for furs with the native Indians.

Later, he changed his grocery to a cloth trading company. This first Muslim immigrant who became an outstanding trader in the Western Canada had developed good relationships with the Indigenous peoples. He became and remained the most renowned share–holder in the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), which is the oldest incorporated joint–stock merchandising company in the English–speaking world, and entwined with the colonization of British North America. There Ali was recognized as the most active, brilliant, successful and important shareholder in the Canada trades.

Another outstanding Muslim man was Bedouin Ferran (also named Peter Baker). He came from Lebanon entered Canada in 1910 and immediately became a successful fur trader, despite facing discrimination. Sometimes, signs of discrimination had been among the downfalls in Canada. As a result, many Canadian Muslims were sent to a detention camp called Kapuskasing in Ontario during world war two either for confinement or for imprisonment simply because they were Muslims. At the same time, there were, at least, a recorded 22 Muslims who fought for Canada in the same

years of war two. All of those Canadian– Muslim soldiers brought in remarkable victories and only one of them (Pte. Hasan Amat) who was originally from Singapore/ Malaysia died in that war at the age of 23 years old. (Hassam Munir; CBC News[1]. 2017[2]).

The stories of those Canadian–Muslim veterans are a piece of practical evidence for the Muslim’s contributions to building and defending Canada. This means Muslims do not only owe a lot of appreciations to Canada but also are visible asset to the progress, development, and defense of Canada. That is why Canada’s second religion is Islam and many Muslims have already invested in it in various ways.

In the following years, the population continued to grow by reaching 645 Muslims as recorded in the Canadian census in 1931. During the 1960s, there was a baby boom, which caused a rapid growth of the Canadian population, including Muslims. Thus, according to the Canadian census of 1971, there were 33,000 Muslims in Canada.

In the 1970s, there was large–scale non– European immigration to Canada, which also reflected the growth of the Muslim community in Canada. As a result, in 1981, the census listed 98,000 Muslims. As the number of Muslims in Canada has been rapidly growing, in 1991, the Canadian census indicated that there were 253,265 Muslims at that time. By 2001, the Islamic community in Canada had grown to more than 579,000. The census of 2006 estimated over 800,000 Muslims in Canada. As of May 2013, the Muslim population became 3.2% of the total population of Canada, with a total of over a million persons. Since then, Islam has been recognized not only as of the fastest–growing religion in Canada but also Canada’s second religion.

Building Muslim Institutions over the years from the 1930s

Al–Rashid Mosque at its opening in 1938

Al–Rashid Mosque was the first mosque to be built in Canada, and the second in North America. Its construction was completed and started operating on December 12, 1938. That was just after North America’s Mother Mosque was built n Cedar Rapids, North Dakota, in 1929. Al–Rashid Mosque accommodated about 700 Muslims in Canada as its regular congregation.

Hilwie Hamdon, one of the most active Muslim women, took a tough campaign

to make the dream true. She approached Edmonton’s Mayor, John Fry, regarding the construction of the mosque and the purchase of its land. Only the cost of the empty land was $5000 because it was a strategic zone adjacent to the Royal Alexandra Hospital. Hilwie, along with her friends, collected funds from Jews, Christians, and Muslims to construct the mosque.

The mosque was built by Ukrainian– Canadian contractor, Mike Drewoth, in a style resembling the Eastern Christian (Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox) immigrant churches.

Serving as a religious and community center, its presence attracted many Muslim families as well as Non–Muslim individuals, and over the years the community grew both in terms of members and financial status. In the early 1980s, the Muslim population was over 16,000, of which most were wealthy or financially stable. Thus, in August of 1982, the new site of Al Rashid mosque was inaugurated with the capacity to serve over 20,000 people.

New Al Rashid mosque (courtesy of the Al Rashid mosque)

Edmonton Islamic Academy is one of the most notable projects of Al Rashid. That is an art school that offers Islamic education to over 1400 students and created jobs for over 130 Muslims.

Today the Edmonton Muslim community consists of more than 60,000 members from more than 62 ethnic backgrounds. Al Rashid Mosque serves as a prominent Islamic organization that leads public outreach activities and provides religious, recreational, and educational facilities to support the practice of Islam.

Hundreds of the other mosques and cultural institutions were established over the past two decades in different parts of Canada. Some of them are as follows:

  • Muslim Association of Canada–Masjid Toronto
  • Masjid Ut Taqwa Mosque–Toronto
  • Scarborough Muslim Association
  • Jami Mosque Toronto
  • TARIC Islamic Centre– Toronto
  • Khalid Bin Al–Walid Mosque– Toronto
  • Dar Al–Hijra–Toronto
  • IMO–Toronto
  • Abu–Hureira Mosque– Toronto,
  • Toronto Islamic Center – TIC,
  • Hundreds of large–spaced Tabliqi centers, and
  • Many other associations, centers, movements, and sects

Muslim Organizations in Canada

At a national level, the majority of the Muslim organizations are umbrella groups and coordinating bodies. Student–led

initiatives are generally well supported and successful in their activities such as holding annual events, of which most prominent ones are Muslim Fest and the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference, which is the largest annual Islamic event in Toronto, Canada).

Several organizations are working to support the Canadian Muslim community by representing their causes and voices by channeling difficulties and paying tremendous efforts to ensure the greatest ways of representing the Canadian Muslims. They also greatly assist many other people outside Canada by providing both relief and developmental aid. Some are listed below: – Muslim Association of Canada (MAC)

is a charitable organization, which is among the top grassroots maneuvers for the establishment of an Islamic presence in Canada that is well–balanced, constructive, and integrated with the social fabric and Canadian culture.

– National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) is an independent, non– partisan, and non–profit organization that protects Canadian human rights and civil liberties by challenging all forms of discrimination, racial profiling, and Islamophobia. [31]

– Islamic Relief Canada helps Canadian Muslims is a charitable channel distributing aid not only to Canadians but abroad by targeting the neediest people. Their platform strengthens the relationship between donors and beneficiaries by providing a high level of transparency.

Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) is an organization dedicated to the empowerment, equality, and equity of all

Muslim women in Canada. It has chapters all over Canada and has launched several projects through community engagement, public policy, stakeholder engagement, and amplified awareness of the social injustices that Muslim women and girls endure in Canada.

  • –  Muslim Welfare Canada works to fight hunger through its programs of food banks and meals on wheels for senior men and women. They also run homes/ shelters for women and children as well as Well–come Refugee Homes.
  • –  Canadian Islamic Broadcasting Network – An online radio station that was set up in 2019 intending to broadcast Islamic information across Canada via social media. The main focus of the station is to provide Islamic Talk Programs. Muslims in Canada are relatively well–integrated and coordinated among

themselves, and also well assimilated with the Canadian and Canadian systems. There are various efforts to improve Muslims’ position in Canada. Today, there are, at least, 21 Canadian Federal Muslim Members of Parliament (MPS) in Canada.

In conclusion

Muslims are well integrated and established into Canadian society. Even though there are some setbacks in every country such as the incident that took place in January 2017, whereby six Muslims were shot to death at a Quebec City mosque. A similar incident took place on June 6, 2021, when the Afzaal family members were intentionally killed when an angry driver ran over them with his truck, in London, Ontario. Welcome to Canada, the home of equality, equity, justice, and prosperity.

This article was compiled and prepared by:
Mohammed SH. Hassan (Author & Publisher)

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