St. Thomas Church opens doors to Muslims without prayer space
'That’s what good neighbours do and that’s what people who are about helping other people do'
For the first time, Muslims in St. Thomas will have a place to worship thanks to a local church that's offered up a free weekly space.
Officials at St. Hilda's St. Luke's Anglican Church, just south of London, have cleared out their fellowship room for area Muslims to congregate every Friday afternoon for Jumaa prayers — which are considered obligatory for some.
St. Thomas Muslims currently don't have a designated Mosque — often making the half-hour trip to London's Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario or the London Muslim Mosque just to perform prayer.
It will increase our understanding of a different faith and be good for both of us and all of us to get to know one another a little better.- Nancy Lovelock, St. Hilda's St. Luke's Anglican Church
Iffat Farooqui, who's lived in St. Thomas for more than 25 years, said making the trip to London wasn't feasible for people who work or didn't have the means of transit.
"In the winter time too it gets dangerous and there's very limited time to have lunch and then pray and then the drive to come back," said Farooqui, who works at a law office. "Not everybody is able to do that."
She was among a growing number of concerned Muslims looking for a solution.
Last week, Farooqui — a longtime diversity committee member at the church — reached out to church board member Nancy Lovelock about finding a space that can accommodate up to 30 people.
"Why not?" Lovelock extended an invitation to the Muslim community after consulting with staff.
"That's what good neighbours do and that's what people who are about helping other people do."
Farooqui said others had reached out to the City of St. Thomas, which offered a list of rentable spaces. Although gathering donations wouldn't have been a problem, she said the church was gracious enough to offer the space free-of-charge.
"Why would we charge people to pray?" said Lovelock, adding that this a win for everybody.
"It will increase our understanding of a different faith and be good for both of us to get to know one another a little better."
Lovelock said the church has a longstanding relationship with London and St. Thomas Muslims — who have gathered for a unity dinner in years past. They've also worked together to help settle refugees.
The first congregation led by a local law student will be held on Friday, when the church will welcome the Muslim community.
"It sends a positive message … that we can work together and live side-by-side," said Farooqui.
With files from CBC's Colin Butler