Nfld. & Labrador

Eid on the ice: Hockey arena hosts growing Muslim community prayers

The steadily-growing Muslim community can't fit into its only N.L. mosque anymore.

For big celebrations and events, the N.L. Muslim community has outgrown its mosque

Fathers and sons take part in Eid prayers at the Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay, as they celebrate the end of Ramadan, as well as this weekend's Father's Day coming up. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

While the steadily-growing Muslim community in the St. John's area awaits a new mosque, the Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay is filled with thousands of Muslims for the first of Eid prayers.

Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, the holiest month on the Muslim calendar which sees followers fast from dawn to dusk. 

"It's a big time where everyone gathers together to celebrate," says 13-year-old Abdallah Shahwan.

For Eid celebrations, he said, it's pretty common for kids to forgo school and parents their work.

"We like to celebrate it with our family," said Shahwan.

A look at some of the crowd gathered at Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay for Eid prayers Friday morning. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

For this year's prayers, the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador was grateful to find the Torbay arena available to accommodate its more than 2,000 members in the metro St. John's area.

"This is I think one of the largest places available for us," says Syed Pirzada, president of the association.

Syed Pirzada says the Muslim population in N.L. is growing, but the financial base is not, because many of those people are students, new immigrants and refugees. (CBC)

"As we all know, the Muslim community is growing by leaps and bounds and we are having difficulty every year to find a place where we can accommodate our two Eid prayers."

The mosque on Logy Bay Road — the only mosque in the province — can only accommodate about 500 people and can't meet the growing needs of the community, like a funeral home.

After Eid prayers, Muslims will get together for a feast. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

"We are trying to manage. It's a challenge for all of us," said Pirzada.

Since the 1980s, the province's Muslim population has climbed from 100 to more than 3,000. In recent years, between Syrian refugees, students and the economy, there's been a huge influx, he said.

"The [Muslim] student population has quadrupled, if not more."

Pirzada said the association had acquired land in St. John's for the construction of a new mosque, but encountered problems, and have since opted for a plot of land on Bauline Line in Torbay.

The town granted them a one-year permit, which means construction has to start by November 2018.

Pirzada said the first phase — getting certificates, architectural and structural designs and concrete work — will cost around $500,000. Overall, the new mosque is expected to cost around $1.2 million.

The challenge, Pirzada said, is that while the Muslim community has expanded enormously, its financial base has not.

A lot of the new members are students and new immigrants, plus refugees who are skilled but may have trouble finding work, and don't have the expendable cash to help raise the funds.

There are more than 3,000 Muslims in Newfoundland and Labrador, and with only one mosque in St. John's, there's a need for larger centre to accommodate them for holy celebrations like Eid. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

"Although I will tell you that Muslims have been contributing in every nook and cranny of Newfoundland, be it Labrador, be it remote places of Newfoundland and Labrador," Pirzada said.

"Every sector, any sector, you take it — you will find Muslims contributing very energetically and peacefully."

Pirzada said the association is appealing to federal and provincial governments, or anyone, for funding to help.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn and Peter Cowan