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Mosque welcoming Grande Prairie to learn about Muslims

In the wake of the fatal attack on a mosque in Quebec City, the Islamic Association of Grande Prairie is hoping more people will reach out to learn more about the Muslim faith. The mosque on 101st Avenue has a library stacked with books, a full-time Imam, Arabic lessons and Sunday school. Vice-president Omar Abdellah says its doors are always open to people of all faiths.

“You never judge a faith based on some followers of that faith’s actions, right? You don’t judge Christianity by some Christian doing something wrong; no, you go to the source, read the books, ask the questions.”

The group has gotten flowers, cards and visits since the shooting that killed six men on the other side of the country. They say the efforts are just continuing the support the association has gotten since it was formed in 1993.

It’s also hoped that more people will take the time to learn about people who follow Islam and the Quran. Communications officer Mohammad Haidar says they don’t tolerate racism or radicalism, and stand against any negative impressions of their faith.

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“I hate when anybody relates Christian radicals, Muslim radicals, Jewish radicals. Radicals are radicals, Christians are Christians, Muslims are Muslims; radicals are cancer that stands for no faith, no religion, and doesn’t have a country.”

Instead of simply driving by the mosque and wondering what goes on inside, the Islamic Association is encouraging people to see for themselves. Haidar says many people would be surprised to find people from countries across the world, who often bring delicious food from their home countries.

“It’s a place where people can feel welcome to meet us as people who worship a specific religion. We love to meet people; we love to come and talk to them about what Islam is about; show them the true Muslim.”

Grande Prairie has had a standalone mosque since 2008, but if you’re not looking for it, you might miss it altogether. Located in the old St. John Ambulance building, it’s is a place for worship and a community centre for the local Muslim community. Edward Houssian helped found the association with five other families, and says it has helped bring the growing Muslim community together.

“My old saying is, ‘I want for my brother what I want for myself,’ and I think we’ve accomplished that in town here by mutual discussions on pros and cons, and it seems to be working out very well.”

Before buying the new spot the group was praying out of living rooms and rented spaces. It’s estimated the Muslim population in the city has since grown to 500, with their own cemetery next to the city’s. However, Houssian explains their faith isn’t much different from others.

“Between all the three major [Abrahamic] religions, we believe in Jesus Christ, we believe in Adam and Eve, we believe in after life. Between Judaism and Christianity, there’s a lot in common, and with Islam… we’re still all brothers. We’re all brothers to even atheists.”

Along with renting space for Ramadan and other festivities, the association also hosts two large family friendly events a year to celebrate Eid. Like everything else, Abdellah encourages everyone to take part.

“Our kids, they go to school in the public school with non-Muslim kids, so they’re friends; there’s no difference. We have a different faith, but we’re still part of the community, so we’re not isolated.”

July’s 2016’s kids party featured bouncy castles in Muskoseepi Park. The association also has a new website, which is updated with upcoming events and news. They were looking at possibly moving into a larger location, but after losing some families to the economic downturn, they are considering renovating instead.

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