A Vancouver man has been celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan by visiting 30 masjids, also known as mosques, in Metro Vancouver over the past 30 days.
On Sunday morning Himy Syed attended prayer held at the Convention Centre to mark the end of four weeks of fasting. Now having visited the 30th masjid on the last day of Ramadan, Syed is reflecting on the unique journey.
"Ramadan is the only time of the year when the masjids and Islamic centres are filled," Syed said. "It's the only time of the year when one has the opportunity to meet as many people from as many backgrounds."
Syed started his 30 Masjids in 30 days project in 2011 in Toronto after he was inspired by two brothers in New York who went "masjid-hopping" over the month of Ramadan.
He was curious to try the same in Canada, and over the years he has completed the challenge in cities across Canada — blogging and podcasting his way through Islamic centres in Ottawa, Quebec City, St.Johns and many more.
He says that it's the best way to get to know the different communities that exist in the country, so after moving to Vancouver in 2016, he decided to do the project on the West Coast this year.
"I may have by now, prayed in a third to a quarter of all Islamic places in the country," Syed said.
Vancouver's unique community
There are over 70,000 Muslims spread across Metro Vancouver, with more than 20 official masjids, and a number of community-built unlisted prayer spaces. Syed says one of the challenges has been to find these "unofficial" masjids, which are often only found through word of mouth.
"I've been to Port Moody, in a small second-floor space that's been rented by the waterfront, and I've been as far south as Richmond," Syed said.
After visiting masjids across Canada, Syed has found that the diversity amongst the Muslims in Vancouver is unlike anything he's seen before.
"In Metro Vancouver, again and again, I would see someone who is Turkish besides someone who is Filipino, Indonesian, Gambians from Senegal, Italian, Indians, Germans...they're sitting in a circle and similarly there's another cosmopolitan talking circle, just hanging out."
For Syed, the 30 masjids project is also about finding and recording the history of cultural sites before they are lost. Since all of Vancouver's Islamic centres are created and funded by members of the community, there are rarely official records about who started them and who they serve.
"A lot of the stories are in people's heads, it's not documented, it's done anonymously. The founders of these masjids are in their 70s and 80s, they're not going to be around forever," said Syed.
"If I don't do this and I know how to do it, there will be people who pass away and those stories are gone forever," he said.
After 30 days of fasting, Syed will be joining other Muslims celebrating Eid-al-Fitr on Monday. While he is tired from a month of fasting and travelling throughout Metro Vancouver, Syed is intent on continuing to visit mosques and record stories.
"As an observant Muslim I must say we have a great product, which is Islam, but we have lousy salespeople. I'm trying to be a better salesman," he said.