The Doc Project

You're looking at Yukon's first-ever mosque

By summer 2018, this former trucking warehouse will be the centre of Whitehorse's Muslim community. (And they're also hoping better halal food joints will follow.)
A former trucking warehouse in Whitehorse will become the first mosque in Yukon. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

By Tom Howell and Meagan Deuling

Muhammad Javed has big plans for this low, metal-plated warehouse to become Yukon's first mosque. He says it'll be ready for Whitehorse's 90 or so resident Muslims to use by the end of this summer.

It'll need a minaret, new siding, new interior walls, a soup kitchen, a small library, and a dome, plus separate living quarters on the property for an imam (to be hired once the community gathers enough money to pay one). Oh, and heat. And wiring. And plumbing.

"It's an exciting project," Muhammad tells CBC Yukon's Meagan Deuling. "Definitely when the project starts, a lot of people will be willing to do the volunteer work, and help us out."

Muhammad Javed led the fundraising effort to purchase the new space. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

Right now, Muhammad and his fellow Whitehorse Muslims are renting a small office space, which they use for communal prayer sessions. Without an imam, locals take turns leading worship. Approximately 35 men and 10 women regularly gather in the tiny space, which has just one bathroom plus a kitchenette. Men use the kitchen sink to perform ablutions (like washing one's feet before entering the prayer room).

Whitehorse Muslims currently pray together in this rented office space. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

To say the least, it's not ideal. During the 17 years since Muhammad arrived in Whitehorse, several of his Muslim friends have left, in large part because they lacked the feeling of community that comes with having a mosque.

"It's not only the space. There's a lot more to it. It's a community centre, where families can get together, where kids can do their education," says Muhammad.

For professional families to stay here, the first thing they look at is, 'Do we have a mosque?'- Muhammad Javed

When Muhammad arrived in Whitehorse, his family was one of only three in the area.

"I felt very lonely. We were the only family from Pakistan for five years," he tells Meagan. "If you are in a very small cultural community, you feel excluded. It's very important for us to have a bigger community."

For her documentary, Meagan Deuling also spoke with two young Whitehorse residents, Syed Rashed and Jibran Ahmed. They're both in their 20s, and have lived in Whitehorse for three years.

"I love it here," says Syed.

"I never thought I'd enjoy it as much as I do," agrees Jibran.

Jibran Ahmed and Syed Rashed have opted for the Yukon life despite the lack of good halal food... and the whole no-mosque thing. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

Jibran's main complaint is the lack of halal food choices, especially fresh meat. One of his biggest hopes for the new mosque is that it attracts Muslim businesses, especially of the culinary variety.

"When it comes to food, that's always the top priority for me!" he explains.

I'm about to get my permanent residency from Yukon. I'm looking forward to spending the rest of my life here. I really love this town now.- Jibran Ahmed

The two friends also want more places to hang out, and not necessarily at the mosque. They're looking into the possibility of starting a shisha bar.

"People are moving to Whitehorse directly from India, for Yukon College," added Jibran. He's pretty sure the mosque is just one step on the way towards a much larger Muslim community in the town, so their future shisha bar will be a busy place.

To hear Meagan Deuling's story, click on the "Listen" link at the top of the page.

About the producer

Meagan Deuling
Meagan Deuling is a journalist who lives in Whitehorse, Yukon. She reports for CBC Yukon and is a freelance writer. She was raised on skiing and fresh fruit in the interior of British Columbia. She learned to embrace and love radio in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She's told stories from communities across the Yukon, as well as in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

This documentary was edited by Tom Howell.