An Historical View of The Islamic Centre of Toronto- Jamie Mosque
The construction of this building started around 1910 as a place of worship for the predominantly Anglo-Saxon Protestant community of High Park. The ensuing First World War delayed the construction work for many years and the building was not completed until 1928. It was named High Park Presbyterian Church. The Church flourished in the early years. A manse (clergyman’s house) at 78 Boustead Avenue was added later. A couple of other properties on Radford Avenue and Boustead Avenue were owned by the Church and occupied by the staff. The building was surrounded by a beautiful garden looked after by a full time gardener. Pipe organ and grand piano used to accompany the choir. The tower housed a bell which would ring on special occasions.
After the World War II, the interest in organized religion was on decline and the younger generation was packing up and heading towards the suburban areas. At the same time East European immigrants started moving in to the neighborhood. Different measures were undertaken to offset the dwindling attendance including combined services with other churches facing similar crunch, selling bits and pieces of land and properties (two houses on the west side of the building on Boustead Ave., and one on Radford Ave. were built on the erstwhile garden). Eventually by the end of 1960, the High park Presbyterian Church decided to sell the building and start afresh under the same name in Swansea district on the west side of High Park. The bell, grand piano and the pipe organ were all taken by the Church with them. Eventually, this building was purchased by a group of Muslims in 1969.
The Muslim Congregation:
The history of Muslims at Jamie Mosque located at 55 Boustead Ave. goes back to 1911. At the turn of the century many Muslims from Albania immigrated to Canada. Among those who settled in Toronto was one Mr. Rajjab Assim. With the help of others Muslims, he established the Muslim Society of Toronto in 1911.
Until 1968, the Muslims conducted their religious activities either in their homes or rental facilities. Muslim population in the Toronto steadily increased in the 1960s with the opening of immigration from non-European nations. A large number of Muslim students and immigrants started arriving here around that era.
In 1963, the first Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) chapter was established on the University of Toronto Campus, as part of the national body known as the Muslim Students Association of the USA & Canada which was established at about the same time at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne, Illinois, USA.
Prior to moving at the 55 Boustead Ave. location, Muslims conducted religious activities at a location purchased on Dundas St. W. at Keel Street for a number of years. In 1969, the former Presbyterian Church at 55 Boustead Ave. was purchased by the Canadian Muslim Society with more than 50% of the cost on Mortgage.
Ideological differences among Muslims of diverse culture and mazhabs (religious thoughts) and greed for power soon gave birth to numerous conflicts for leadership, operation and administration of the Mosque. This resulted in the separation of a group of like-minded Muslims, who established new organization called Islamic Foundation of Toronto and setup a Mosque on Rhodes Avenue in the East End of Toronto which is now located at 431Nugget Ave in Scarborough, ON (near the intersection of Markham Rd and Sheppard Ave.).
However, the conflict in the Mosque did not end among the remaining members. The Mosque had a huge mortgage to pay off. People got disillusioned, as they were witnessing continuous verbal and at times physical violence on the Mosque premises. With the decline in attendance, the donation diminished. Donations declined to almost zero level. Finally, the Mortgagee locked the doors and it was put up for sale. For a while the congregation was without a mosque.
People were scrambling to find money to save the Masjid. The MSA and a few individuals (Dr. Ahmad Sakr) appealed to late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who responded with a generous donation to the to MSA Headquarters in Gary, Indiana, USA, with a condition that it must be given to a registered organization.
Brothers Sirajuddin Ahmed, National Vice President of the MSA, Abdul Hai Patel, the MSA Canadian Representative, and Ata-ul-Haq Malick, the Coordinator of MSA Montreal chapter, setup a charitable trust called MSA Islamic Services of Canada, so that no one will ever claim ownership and sell it. They repurchased the Mosque under the ownership of the MSA Islamic Services of Canada, and the Mosque was reopened in June 1973. The three trustees to sign the purchase deal were the same three brothers named above.
Since then Jamie Mosque has been operating under this Trust, which was later renamed as Canadian Islamic Trust Foundation. Later on (1976-7) the MSA underwent a major re-organization to meet the new needs and challenges of the growing Muslim communities in North America. A new organization, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) was instituted in 1976 which took MSA and CITF under its banner.
The bell, grand piano, and the pipe organ were taken by the Church with them. We had no use for them anyway. The pews were removed and carpet was laid down because our form of worship requires standing in rows behind the Imam bowing and prostrating on the ground-hence the need to remove the shoes before entering the prayer hall lest one brings dirt on the floor. The Presbyterian Church did not have any statues but crosses were incorporated in the designs of windows and doors. They were tried to be obliterated as much as possible. Currently, we have no symbols or imageries in the prayer hall or anywhere in the building.
Muslims all over the world are required to face toward Kaa’ba in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) while performing prayers. Since this building was not originally intended for such a use the correction was made by laying down the carpet at an angle to conform to our requirements. A niche (mehrab) was added to make room for the Imam to lead the prayer. The original magnificent architectural features are more or less left intact.
A number of renovations over the years brought about new facilities for ablutions, funeral services, and classrooms for weekend schools etc.
A great number of mosques in GTA originated from the Jami and it can in essence be called “Ommul-Masajid” (the mother of all the mosques) in the Greater Toronto Area. By the blessings of Allah, there are now over 70 permanent mosques and many more temporary musallah’s (prayer areas) in the GTA.
From the first day of its opening under the MSA management, the Mosque has remained the focal point for the Muslim & non-Muslim community for Islamic guidance and services. It is not just a Mosque, but also an institution that is part of the proud Canadian and Muslim history. It should be declared a Heritage building.