In 1990, St. John’s, N.L. saw the doors to its first mosque open. It's been the place of worship for the city’s Muslim community ever since.
Dr. Tim El-Tahan’s father was the one who started it, and now he’s following-suit here in Pictou County.
“Being able to start that here, and having gone through that experience in Newfoundland was a really emotional thing to do,” El-Tahan said Feb. 12. “It’s like a legacy that continued on.”
He was standing inside the former Christ the King Catholic Church in Trenton which, for the last two years, has been empty except for the people who have come and gone to keep it in good condition.
On Sunday, Feb. 10, it was filled with worshippers again. It was the first day Pictou County’s history where its Muslim community could come to a place of worship for their five daily prayers.
“A mosque is really the centrepiece of the Muslim community and so we’re calling this the Pictou County Islamic Centre,” said El-Tahan. "This will be a community centre as well as a place of worship. It really helps gel the community together.”
Of course, that community has grown a lot in the last two years with the addition of more than 60 Syrian refugees.
“It was a big addition to the Muslim community here and we had been praying out of each other’ houses until then,” said El-Tahan.
El-Tahan hopes having the mosque will also give Pictou County an opportunity to retain other professionals.
“I’m a physician and we’ve had several physicians come and go through the county who are Muslim. I think having a mosque here will do a lot to retain and recruit physicians moving forward.”
El-Tahan was elected as the president of the Muslim community last year and he said that their mandate at that time had been to find a place where they could all come together and worship.
Last summer the Muslim community approached the Diocese of Antigonish to inquire about the church. Through personal donations from local community members, as well as help from the Islamic Association of Nova Scotia, which put out an appeal to members across the province, they were able to raise enough funds to buy the church at 25 Forge Street.
“Initially when we were looking at buying a church there were some people who were a little concerned about the optics of it and how that would go down,” said El-Tahan. “For me it was an opportunity to maintain this place as a place of worship.”
Having been born and raised in Newfoundland and educated at a Catholic school, El-Tahan noticed at an early age the ways in which the Muslim and Christian faiths overlap.
“The things that bind us are so much more than the things that divide us,” said El-Tahan. “We want this to be a very inclusive space.”