Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin strides across the yard, gently takes the hand of little Bayan Hamado and guides her over to a group of Muslim men who are happily turning sod.
"It's for them, right?" Fortin says of the youngest Muslim children who are the inspiration behind a new Muslim mosque that will be built on Quadra Street in Victoria, across from Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre.
Nearby, Bayan’s mother, Leticia Villalpando, proudly watches her four-year-old grasp a shovel during Friday’s ground-breaking ceremony, attended by more than 70 Muslims.
“It’s so exciting,” the Victoria resident said. “I can’t believe it’s happening.”
Many of the 1,200 to 1,500 Muslims in the Capital Region have been attending prayer services at two adjacent homes the Muslim community purchased in 1996, at 2216 and 2218 Quadra St.
Until last week, women and children attended lectures and prayer services in one house, while next door men prayed and attended classes and other activities at the mosque, which accommodated just 40 people.
For that reason, space for prayers is rented at the University of Victoria and Gordon Head Recreation Centre.
“You always see the churches, the synagogues,” Villalpando said. “For us it’s always (been) the houses. For us to have an actual mosque is very important.”
Deconstruction of the houses began Monday to make way for the new Masjid Al-Iman. Construction will take about 10 months, and the three-level centre will feature prayer space for men and women, an activity room and a kitchen when it’s doors open at the end of October. Construction costs are estimated at $1.56 million, according to the Victoria branch of the B.C. Muslim Association's project website.
“The community is growing and that’s why we need a bigger space,” said Villalpando’s husband, Ali Hamado, Victoria branch treasurer.
The new mosque will be four times larger and accommodate 160 people for daily prayers.
“We are building it for our future generation, to be able to provide services for our Muslim community and the non-Muslim community as well,” said Hamado. “It will be a learning centre for those who would like to learn more about Islam.”
While other faiths are struggling to fill the pews of their churches, Greater Victoria’s Muslim community is booming. That is largely due to the 400 international Muslim students who come from around the world to attend post-secondary schools in the region, Hamado said.
“Victoria attracts many people for many reasons - the weather, the safety and the friendliness,” he said.
For details on the reconstruction project, please visit www.masjidal-iman.com.