One of the largest and fastest growing Muslim organizations in Canada has purchased the building that was formerly home to Trinity Community Presbyterian Church in Oro-Medonte Township.
“Our plan is to keep it as a place of worship,” said Safwan Choudhry, the director of communications for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at (AMJ). “We call our place of worship a mosque where in the Christian faith, it’s called a church. From a visual standpoint, it will stay the same. We don’t have any plans to change it.”
In fact, the congregation from Trinity may still use the Line 7 building for their services, said Choudhry. “The previous congregation … may choose to come to worship, which is wonderful news. The local council were using the space for municipal meetings and we do not want to change that, so we have committed to them they can continue to use this space as they were.”
Choudhry said AMJ has a “longstanding policy” that its mosques and prayer centres are open to the community. “We recognize that even for us it might be a little too big,” he said of the 180,000-square-foot brick building which sits on an almost 14-acre site. “If others can benefit from it, that is in the letter and spirit of our teaching about what a mosque should be.”
Choudhry said the location, just off Highway 11, is ideal for its growing community of believers. The AMJ, which is a “national Muslim community from Newfoundland to British Columbia” is headquartered in Vaughan, which is home to a very large Muslim community. High housing prices in that region have prompted many to head north.
“Naturally, as any community grows, it looks for space to grow,” said Choudhry. “In our case, as a faith-based community, we were looking for a place for worship and this sort of fit that mould.”
He said the building can “comfortably accommodate over 1,000 worshippers.” He also said it’s “a great space for youth in our community, for sports activities and other initiatives for community planning.” He said they have already hosted a blood donor clinic and a food drive for a food bank.
When asked if a rural community like Oro-Medonte would embrace Muslims, Choudhry acknowledged it’s “an important question and a very timely question given the climate we live in. It would be naivete if we didn’t think about that.”
He said the group has opened many mosques and prayer centres in rural areas. “What we’ve learned from our experience across Canada is that Canadians, in general, are some of the most tolerant and open-minded, receptive people,” he said. “(It’s) less about location and more about where there are people who want to worship and don’t have a place to worship.”
To help integrate into their new communities, AMJ tries to be inclusive, said Choudhry. “Everything we do, we do it with the involvement of the broader community,” he said. “A mosque is a place of community gathering and it can’t be a place of community gathering if the community doesn’t have a say, which is why we try to involve the community.”
With that in mind, Choudhry said an official opening will be held. “When we do an official inauguration, we invite everyone – neighours, local schools, business people, everyone. It’s an opportunity for them to see what happens with their own eyes instead of watching it on CNN.”
Choudhry cited a Pew Research poll that suggested 60% of Americans had never met a Muslim; he believes the data in Canada would be similar. “That responsibility rests with the Muslim community to maybe make themselves open and to take advantage of the opportunity for bridge building. We feel this is a great way to do that.”
While a date for the official opening has not yet been set, worshippers are already using the facility. “Muslims pray five times a day, but it’s preferred that they pray together as a congregation,” said Choudhry. “You need space to do that, so this is a wonderful opportunity.”
He said Muslims are called to observe five daily prayers – the short five- to 15-minute prayers start before sun-up and conclude after sun-down – seven days a week. “Islam is a religion that really believes in bringing you closer to your creator and, obviously, we believe that to be God. It works out to about an hour of your day given up for God every day.”
Choudhry said most of the worshippers are from the Barrie area. He said response from the community has been positive.
“Most people are very happy it’s going to be available to the broader community,” he said. “We are absolutely thrilled so far and we plan to be here for many, many years to come. As the community grows, and as we continue to grow, we want to become part of the mosaic of the community.”
AMJ is the only Islamic organization to believe that the long-awaited messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). Ahmad claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus and the divine guide whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammadsa. AMJ believes that God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace
AMJ categorically rejects terrorism in any form. Over a century ago, Ahmad emphatically declared that an aggressive jihad by the sword has no place in Islam. In its place, he taught his followers to wage a bloodless, intellectual jihad of the pen to defend Islam. His rigorous and rational defenses of Islam unsettled conventional Muslim thinking. As part of its effort to revive Islam, AMJ continues to spread Ahmad teachings of moderation and restraint in the face of bitter opposition from the Muslim world.
Similarly, AMJ is the only Islamic organization to endorse a separation of mosque and state. Over a century ago, Ahmad taught his followers to protect the sanctity of both religion and government by becoming righteous souls as well as loyal citizens. He cautioned against irrational interpretations of Quranic pronouncements and misapplications of Islamic law. He continually voiced his concerns over protecting the rights of God’s creatures. Today, AMJ continues to be an advocate for universal human rights and protections for religious and other minorities. It champions the empowerment and education of women. Its members are among the most law-abiding, educated, and engaged Muslims in the world.