Celebrating Eid in Canada’s Arctic

Photo by by Phillippe Morin

Story by Teenaz Javat

Compared to the millions of Muslims around the world who just celebrated Eid-ul-Adha - The Feast of Sacrifice - the small group who celebrated in their little mosque on the Tundra seems almost insignificant; but it’s not.

The only Canadian city located inside the Arctic Circle, Inuvik holds the distinction of having the northernmost mosque in the western hemisphere. Two years ago with the help of a Muslim charitable foundation based out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, they got their first mosque.

Inuvik is 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, and for 57 days in May, June and July the sun doesn't set at all. As well, the city has 30 days without sunlight in the months of December and January.

“There is a small Muslim community of about 85 people in Inuvik. They largely comprise educated newcomers with families who needed a place of worship,” says Hussein Guisti who heads the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, the Winnipeg charity that raised money to build and ship the mosque to Inuvik.

Built in Winnipeg, the prefabricated (already-built) structure took the 4,000-kilometre journey by truck and barge, and on arrival in Inuvik it was assembled on a pre-purchased parcel of land.

Carpenters and local engineers from as far away as Toronto volunteered their time and effort to help set it up before the onset of winter.

“Having a mosque is intrinsic for a Muslim, as it is the epicentre of daily life,” says Guisti, who is often referred to as the mosque man of Canada. A U.S.-trained doctor and now a resident of Winnipeg, Guisti’s aim is to make sure every province in Canada has a mosque.

“Before anybody moves, the first thing they ask is, Does the community have a mosque? It is not just used as a house of prayer but a place where the community gathers, holds religion classes for kids, weddings, and iftaar celebrations. It’s a gathering place of sorts,” says Guisti in an interview with the CBC radio show As It Happens early this year. “You cannot have a functioning Muslim community without a mosque.”

Guisti has fielded requests for building mosques from as far away as Sweden and French Polynesia.

Religious services at Inuvik’s aptly named Midnight Sun Mosque are held in English and Arabic. The Muslim community, although small, is ethnically diverse. It is quite the microcosm of Canada, as immigrants from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine territories, Somalia, Croatia, Pakistan and Burma come to pray and socialize on a daily basis.

The sturdy structure blends into the environment like most dwellings on the tundra. The giveaway is the minaret tower which is lit up, making it look spectacular. The mosque is a featured attraction in NWT, having made it to the Twelfth edition of the Inuvik and the Beaufort Delta Attraction and Service Guide for 2012.

Before the advent of the mosque the local Muslim population never celebrated festivals like Ramadan and Eid-ul-Adha in Inuvik. They would scatter to be with their families in the southern part of Canada. Now some of them have decided to bring their families up to Inuvik as the facilities provide for families to gather and be together.

As for Guisti, having built mosques across Manitoba and NWT he is next taking aim at Nunavut, and then Yukon.

In a phone interview from Winnipeg, he tells me if a place of worship is the only thing stopping Muslims from availing opportunities in Canada’s north, he will make sure to provide for them.

“The Nunavut mosque has reached Iqaluit and is now in storage,” he says. “We will set up the structure in June 2013. After which my next project will be to fundraise for a mosque in Yukon, as that would be the only Canadian territory without a mosque.”

1.6 billion Muslims worldwide
940,000 Muslims in Canada
180 Muslims in North West Territories
85 Muslims in Inuvik *
80 Muslims in Iqaluit *

Source: Pew Research Centre 2010.
*According to Hussain Guisti

This story is from the "On the Brink of Fulfillment" InfoBlock. To read more stories on this topic, click here.