Western Hemisphere’s most northern mosque sent to Canadian Arctic
By: Hussain Guisti*
By the grace of Allah (SWT) history was made over the summer. The Western Hemisphere’s most northern Mosque has been established in the Canadian Arctic. The ‘Little Yellow Mosque’ or ‘the Arctic Mosque’ as it has been called left Winnipeg on September 1 and against the odds and through rough terrain, arrived in the city of Inuvik, NWT, 23 days later after a 4,500 km trek over land and water.
The mosque was built in Winnipeg as it was most cost effective to do so, then moved thousands of kilometers to reach its final destination. The Foundation approached several companies in the town of Inuvik itself but the prices quoted to build a similar size mosque in the arctic town averaged a half a million dollars. By constructing it in Winnipeg, then sending it by truck 2,400 km to Hay River and by barge 1,850 km to Inuvik, the Foundation sought to save $150,000.
While construction was not yet completed, the mosque had to depart no later than September 1st to catch the last barge of the season that was due to leave Hay River on Sept. 10. The un-finished construction material (inside doors, carpet, kitchen cabinets, fixtures, plumbing and heating apparatus) were sent along with the mosque to be completed in Inuvik.
Most major news outlets in Canada and several media outlets overseas captured the mosque’s journey. The progress of the mosque’s journey seemed to have caught the nation and the world’s imagination as it is believed to be the world’s longest house move. The move was updated daily by CBC Radio in Edmonton and Winnipeg.
Inuvik is the most northern major urban town in Canada. It has a population of 3,600, about a hundred of who are Muslims. Muslims started moving to Inuvik 40 years ago during the Arctic Ocean oil boom in search of better employment. In 1995 there were only 5 Muslim families in the city that sees itself 2 degrees into the Arctic Circle.
The town itself is called the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’. For 37 straight days in December and January the city is pitch dark 24 hours a day and receives absolutely no sunlight. When the sun finally arises, it does so for 4 minutes that is increased in increments of minutes daily till summer. In July the city goes through 56 straight days with no darkness, therefore the nickname. The Muslims of Inuvik follow the prayer and fasting times of Edmonton.
The mosque is 1,544 sq feet and was designed specifically by the community in Inuvik to suit their needs as an Islamic community center. About 660 sq ft of the total space is devoted to the main prayer hall that can accommodate 80 worshippers. It also comes with a sisters’ prayer hall, a children’s room, a kitchen, an ablution room and a handsomely sized Mihrab. It will replace the small 50-year-old trailer that has served as their prayer spot for the past decade. That trailer could only accommodate a fifth of the Muslms at any one time.
The move north was not a smooth, uneventful journey despite all of the strategic planning. It was held up in Edmonton for a day due to high traffic and construction. It was then stuck for 2 more days due to the September long weekend. Finally, after leaving Alberta and entering the North West Territories, the mosque had to cross a very narrow bridge. The Reindeer Bridge was not wide enough to allow the tires of the truck to pass so the mover removed the tires and attempted to balance the structure by way of another truck. At that juncture, the mosque started tipping to the right and nearly fell into the creek. All construction materials inside were then moved to the opposite end, which only made the mosque tip the other way. Thank Allaah SWT, a construction crew,that happened to be on site, brought in their backhoes and tied chains to the beams, may Allaah bless them abundantly for their effort. This prevented the mosque from tipping into the creek.
However, that delay as well as traffic and construction prevented the mosque’s arrival to the dock in Hay River on time and it seemed all was lost to catch the last barge. A quick and frantic phone request to the Northern Transportation Company by the CBC and others was made to hold the barge. The Northern Transportation Company graciously agreed to assist. The company agreed to wait and not leave without the mosque. May Allaah bless them for their kindness.
When the mosque was finally loaded onto the barge and the crew was ready to leave the following day, strong winds and high currents delayed the trip for another 2 days. The barge finally began its 1,850 km trek from Hay River to Inuvik on September 13th. It landed in Inuvik on September 23rd.
Since its arrival, the Muslims of Inuvik have constructed the foundation and moved the mosque onto its new site. They have been working day and night to finish construction from the inside and build a 35-foot Minaret.
Following the mosque’s move all the way to Inuvik were Winnipeg filmmakers Saira Rahman and her sister Nilufer Rahman, who were capturing the trek in a new documentary called ‘The Arctic Mosque’. Media outlets all over the world aired the footage they took.
Inauguration is due November 11th and 12th. May Allah bless all those who worked so diligently to achieve this historical accomplishment for the sake of Allaah SWT. And finally may He bless the new mosque and make it a center of community harmony for all northerners, Canadians and visitors to the arctic.
* Br. Hussain Guisti is the manager of Zubaida Talab Foundation.
(Article re-produced from Manitoba Muslim Magazine)