'Heartwarming' event brings in $130K for Yellowknife's new Islamic centre

The chair of the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife says the group is $130,000 closer to a new mosque after a fundraising event brought in more than double its goal for the evening.

Islamic community hopes to raise $2 million for costs of new 8,000 square foot centre

More than 120 people attended a Islamic Centre fundraiser at Sir John Franklin High School on April 22. (Submitted by Nazim Awan)

Yellowknife's Muslim community is one step closer to building a new mosque in the city after a fundraising event brought in more than $130,000 for design and architectural costs.

Nazim Awan, chair of the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife, says over 120 people attended the fundraiser at Sir John Franklin High School on April 22.

The initial goal was to raise $50,000 for construction costs, but some families decided to donate upwards of $10,000 of their own money.

"That is huge for a community of our size," Awan said. 

"That tells us that people are willing to contribute more than what they can even afford. This fundraising was really a very promising and heartwarming event for everybody."

Awan told CBC the goal is to raise approximately $2 million, the anticipated cost of an 8,000 square-foot facility.

Earlier this year, the organization purchased a new lot for its future mosque right next to its current location at the base of the Franklin Avenue hill. Awan says the existing building is too small to cater to the city's growing Muslim population.

The plan is to merge the two properties for the new mosque.

"The Islamic Centre will be for the community of Yellowknife," Awan said. "It will be an education centre, an outreach centre and a worship place for Muslims.

"But we have a duty to engage the non-Muslim population who want to know and want to understand Islam.

"I am very confident that the new centre will be a very open, welcoming centre for all of the community."

Awan says that could include hosting interactive sessions to promote interfaith harmony or to teach Arabic.

What happens next?

On the heels of last month's successful fundraiser, Awan says more are being planned for Ramadan, which begins May 26.

Awan says Yellowknife's Muslim population is no larger than 300, but that community members are clearly willing to raise money for a new place of worship.

I am very confident that the new centre will be a very open, welcoming centre for all of the community.- Nazim Awan

The next step is to acquire permits.

"[We need to] get the required permits from the city and we hope that everything will be done accordingly at a suitable time," he said.

"Construction is a short season. If we miss this year, it will go to next year."

Syed Imtiaz Ahmad, president of the Canadian arm of the Islamic Society of North America, says other mosques across Canada will also donate to the project in Yellowknife.

Trust 'restored' after mosque funds stolen

In addition to the $130,000 raised last month, Awan says over $90,000 has already been raised over the last four years.

He says the city's Muslim community can be confident every cent will support operations at the current facility, help with charity events or go towards the construction of a new mosque.

That wasn't always the case, though. Over three years ago, a former chair of the organization was sentenced to 33 months in prison for defrauding the organization of over $117,000.

It's believed that Mohammed Basha stole the money over a two-year period instead of putting it towards a new mosque.

Awan has served as chair of the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife ever since Basha was removed. He says trust has been restored now that the organization has updated its accounting policies.

"Trust is a culture and everybody who goes to a place of worship, they trust each other," he said.

"We have repeatedly communicated that all our information is open. By working hard over the last few years, now people have full confidence.

"Their trust is not only restored, I would say rather that their trust is enhanced. Now people donate with the full confidence that whatever they do, whatever money they will designate, it will be spent on that."

Awan plans on hosting a public ground-breaking ceremony once construction of the new mosque begins. He's hopeful that will happen sometime this summer.