Arctic mosque lands safely in Inuvik

The world's most northern mosque has arrived by barge in Inuvik, N.W.T., giving Muslims in the Arctic town a proper place of worship.

Building survives 4,000-kilometre journey by road and river to N.W.T.

The world's most northern mosque has arrived by barge in Inuvik, N.W.T., giving Muslims in the Arctic town a proper place of worship.

A Northern Transportation Company Ltd. barge arrived in Inuvik late Wednesday afternoon, carrying the prefabricated 1,554-square-foot beige building that will soon be a mosque and community centre for a growing Muslim population in the Arctic hamlet of 3,200 people.

Facing an early snow, a crowd of about 40 Muslims greeted their long-awaited mosque at the NTCL shipyard. There were prayers, group photos, hugs and applause.

"It's a beautiful building. Everyone's happy to have this small little home for meeting and for prayer, and for the children to be playing in," resident Amir Suliman told CBC News when the mosque arrived.

The arrival caps an incredible 4,000-kilometre road and river journey from Manitoba, where the mosque was built, through two provinces and the Northwest Territories, down the Mackenzie River to the community just north of the Arctic Circle.

The Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, a Manitoba-based Islamic charity, raised the money to build and ship the structure to Inuvik to help the Islamic community there.

Long road, river journey

Suliman, who organized a recent multicultural fair in Inuvik, said it was a proud day, recalling two years of fundraising and the stress in recent weeks over whether the mosque would make it north in one piece.

Inuvik residents, including members of the town's Islamic community, watch the mosque come in Wednesday. ((Philippe Morin/CBC))

The mosque's journey, which began by semi-trailer at the end of August, faced delays due to heavy traffic, highway regulations, narrow bridges and high winds.

Just as the mosque had crossed the Alberta-Northwest Territories border, it came close to tipping into Reindeer Creek as the semi-trailer tried to cross a narrow bridge.

The semi-trailer made it on Sept. 10 to Hay River, N.W.T., where it was put on the barge — the last one of the season — and floated 1,800 kilometres down the Mackenzie River to its final destination.

Back in Inuvik, another man who watched the mosque's arrival was Mamdouh El-Haradi, originally from Sudan and one of the town's taxi drivers. 

"It's a symbolic place for the Muslims," he said. "It means that if anybody comes up here, they'll find a place to pray and worship. Plus, we're planning on using it as a community centre."

Replaces small trailer

El-Haradi said the new mosque will be a welcome replacement for the existing one-bedroom trailer Inuvik's Muslims have prayed in over the past decade.

In recent weeks, local Muslims have marked Eid al-Fitr — the Festival of Ramadan Fast-Breaking — with prayers and a community feast at Inuvik's curling lounge.

"We used to go to the arena to pray and have our festivities. Now we have a place to stay," El-Haradi said. "Inuvik is a nice place to live and a nice place to have a mosque. We hope everybody enjoys it."

Cab driver Kerry Alkadri said no official name has been chosen for the mosque, but he joked it could be called the "graceful mosque" because it survived its journey in one piece.

Dozens of Muslim families in Inuvik have had to send their children to live elsewhere in Canada because there has been no mosque or Islamic education centre in town.

They have tried raising money for a mosque, but the Islamic community there is just too small — only about 100 members.

It cost the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation about $300,000 to construct the mosque in Winnipeg and ship it north. That has saved Inuvik's Islamic community tens of thousands of dollars in labour and material costs, according to organizers.

'This is what Canada is all about'

"You want to break down crying, really. It's joyous, it's a sense of achievement," said Hussain Guisti, who heads up the foundation.

"We were told, 'You know, this can't be done. It's impossible. There's no way you're going to get [it] there in one piece.' To know that I did it — it's a feeling of joy."

Guisti said the generosity of everyone who helped make the northern mosque a reality is incredible.

"This is what Canada is all about," he said. "It shows the welcomeness of Canada, it shows the tolerance of Canada, it shows we're multicultural, we're diverse."

The new mosque will need to have carpets and additional doors installed. An official opening ceremony will take place once that is done, in about a month.

With files from the CBC's Philippe Morin