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Planting the Seeds – History of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto Part 2

Dr_Fuad_Sahin BY MUNEEB NASIR

The coming together of the early immigrant Muslims in Toronto to build an organization and establish a centre for their religious, cultural and social activities had an air of excitement among members of the newly formed Muslim Foundation in 1968.

While there were established mosques in other parts of Canada, such as in London, Ontario, as well as, in Edmonton, Alberta,  the community in Toronto in the early 1960s had one fledgling centre, established by Albanian immigrants.

Early in the 20th century, a sizeable number of Albanian immigrants settled in the city and through the activism of these early Muslim Torontonians the Albanian Muslim Society was formed in 1952 by Regep Assim, Neim Sali and Sami Karim.

This pioneering organization was re-launched as the Muslim Society of Toronto in 1957 as the small community now included Muslims from other parts of the world.

In 1961, the Muslim Society of Toronto established the first mosque in the city when they purchased a store-front property at 3047 Dundas Street W.

As the population of Muslims increased, the Society sold this property and purchased a Presbyterian church at 56 Boustead Avenue. On February 26, 1969 the building was opened as the Jami Mosque.

This pioneering work led to the establishment of the Albanian Mosque in 1954 in the Keele and Dundas area of the city and it served the cultural and religious needs of the Albanian Muslims.

In the early 1960s, religious services for the small Muslim population in the city were primarily being conducted in rental facilities and homes.

In 1965, Muslim students attending the University of Toronto established the Friday services (Jumu’ah) in the institution’s historic centre, Hart House.

The following year, the students formed a chapter of the rapidly growing movement, the Muslim Students Association (MSA), which was being established on university campuses across North America.

Weekly Jumu’ah prayers have been conducted every Friday in Hart House, almost uninterrupted, ever since.

With the liberalization of Canada’s immigration policy in the late 1960s, non-European immigrants started to come into the country.

Muslims from South East Asia, the Middle East, South Africa and the Caribbean began immigrating into the city in sizeable numbers and their desire to fulfill their religious obligations led to the formation of the Muslim Foundation.

The new organization served the needs of Muslims beyond the city of Toronto, as members came from surrounding cities to attend the weekly Sunday gatherings or for holiday celebrations.

The regional diversity of the membership was also reflected in the Board of Trustees of the Muslim Foundation which led to some early Board meetings being held outside of the city.

Thinking Ahead
The second meeting of the Muslim Foundation was held at McMaster University’s Wentworth Hall on Sunday May 26, 1968.

The new Board of Trustees of the Muslim Foundation set about organizing the activities of the community, holding weekly prayer services and special events on major religious holidays, as well as publishing a newsletter.

By the fall of 1968, discussions about acquiring a property to house the new organization occupied the Board.

At the Board of Trustees meeting held on Sunday November 3, 1968 in Niagara Falls, it was decided to launch a building project and fund raising campaign at that year’s Eid-ul-Fitr dinner and to dedicate the Eid sermon to highlighting the importance of a mosque for Muslim communal activities.

Attending this Board meeting by invitation was Mr. Hussain al-Shahristani, an Iraqi doctoral student in nuclear chemistry at the University of Toronto.

Al-Shahristani, a Shiite Muslim, would later return to Iraq where, in 1979, he was imprisoned by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for refusing to help develop the country’s nuclear capability.

He is currently Iraq’s Oil Minister.

Tb irving At the same November meeting, it was recommended that the Canadian scholar, Dr. T.B. Irving from Guelph, Ontario, be nominated at the upcoming General Body Meeting for a position on the Board of Trustees.

An accomplished scholar of linguistics, Dr. Irving went on to translate the Qur’an, “The Qur’an: First American Version”, published in 1985.

Pivotal Year
1969 proved to be a busy and pivotal year for the Muslim Foundation and for Muslim community in the city of Toronto.

As the Board stepped up its search for a property in the east end of Toronto, they also sought out relationships with other organizations across South Western Ontario and the United States.

In January of 1969, Dr. T. B. Irving proposed that the Muslim Foundation take up membership in the Federation of Islamic Missions (FIA), a continental organization.

The chairman of the Board, Dr. Ahmed Fuad Sahin, also requested that meetings be initiated with surrounding Muslim communities.

This initiative led to the formation of an interim committee of Muslim organizations, the Muslim Communities of Ontario and NY State.

On Sunday June 1, 1969 Dr. Ahmed Fuad Sahin and Mr. Hasib Khan were re-elected as the Chairman and Treasurer for the 1969-70 term.

Dr. Sahin, on accepting the chairmanship, urged members that the leadership potential in the Muslim community should be nurtured and new leaders be groomed for the 1970-71 term of office.

In the summer of 1969, the Board narrowed the search for a property to two buildings, both close to Danforth Avenue, in the south-east borough of East York  in Toronto – the Legion Hall on Dawes Road and the Orange Hall on Rhodes Avenue.

The 50 ‘ by 100 ‘ Orange Hall property on Rhodes Avenue (Coxwell and Gerrard Avenues), was approved by the Board of Trustees as more suitable to meet the needs of the organization as it also had the possibilities for building an extension.

The Orange Hall had an interesting history – it was the home of a Scottish football team support group, Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club.  It was also used as a Gospel Hall in the early 20th century.

An offer of $36,000 was approved for the property, with $25,000 to be paid on closing and the balance to be paid the following year so as to avoid interest payments.

In the Fall of 1969, the name of the organization was changed to the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, to avoid the ambiguity caused by the association of Muslim Foundation with scholarships and other related activities.

The seeds were planted and the official life of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto Inc. began on 17 September, 1969 when the organization was incorporated.

The first officers elected were Dr. Ahmed Fuad Sahin (President), Mr. M. Muinuddin (Vice President) and Mr. Hasib Khan (Secretary/Treasurer) and the organization moved into their newly acquired building at 182-184 Rhodes Avenue in Toronto.

The next installment in this series will look at the organization in 1970s and 1980s and profile its long standing President, Mohamed Nasir, who led the transformation of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto into a major Islamic Centre in Canada with the establishment of its landmark Mosque and full-time school in north-east Scarborough.

Profile – Dr. Ahmed Fuad Sahin
The Islamic Foundation of Toronto’s first President, Dr. Ahmed Fuad Sahin, has been a pioneer in Canada’s Muslim community.

Since immigrating to Canada in the late 1950s, Dr. Sahin has been involved in public service and was the founder or co-founder of a number of major Muslim organizations in Canada.

These organizations include the Islamic Foundation of Toronto Inc., the Islamic Society of Niagara Peninsula, Islamic West Associates of Canada, Canadian Turkish Muslim Association, Council of Muslim Communities of Canada (CMCC) and IDRF (International Development and Relief Foundation).

Dr. Sahin was born in Urfa, Turkey. He arrived in Ontario In 1958 and became  an internship resident in Kingston, Ontario.

In 1966, he became an urologist, affiliated with Greater Niagara General Hospital, Niagara Falls, Ontario, where he continued to practice until retirement.

Dr. Sahin’s community service and humanitarian work extended beyond the Muslim community with his active participation in such groups as the Christian – Jewish – Muslim Dialogue and the Christian Muslim Liaison Committee. He has also represented Canada at a number of international conferences on World Peace and World Religions. He continues to serve the community as volunteer Imam of the Islamic Society of Niagara.

On January 22, 2009, Dr. Ahmed Fuad Sahin was named to the Order of Ontario for his contributions to community service. The Order of Ontario is the province’s highest official honor. It recognizes Ontarians who have made an outstanding contribution to society in Ontario and around the world.

“This distinguished honor is bestowed on those who have gone above and beyond, those who have demonstrated excellence in various fields of endeavor,” said the Honorable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and Chancellor of the Order of Ontario at the ceremony.

Dr. Ahmed Fuad Sahin is a truly outstanding Canadian Muslim.

(Muneeb Nasir is President of the Olive Tree Foundation (www.olivetreefoundation.ca), a public endowment foundation. He served as a Board of Director of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto in the early 1990s, on a number of committees in the organization from 1974 to 1995 and as Chairman of its Program Committee for many years).

To Read Part 1 click here

References:

Jami Mosque (2008). An Historical View of The Islamic Centre of Toronto – Jamie Mosque. Retrieved March 30, 2009. http://www.jamimosque.com/some_words_about_us.php

L’Abbé, Sonnet, & Wahl, Nicolle. (2006, March 27). Muslim Students’ Association Celebrates 40 Years. The Bulletin, Number 15.

Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club, Toronto Branch #1 (2009).  Club History.
Retrieved April 7, 2009,
http://www.grsctorbranch.com/bearshome.html

Broadview Gospel Hall (2001). Rhodes Avenue. Retrieved April 7,2009, http://www.broadview.gospelhall.com/book_100yrs_with_cover.pdf

Islamic Foundation of Toronto Inc. (1969). Minute Book.

Kerim, S. B. (1997). History of the Muslim Society of Toronto.

IDRF (2009). Dr. Ahmed Fuad Sahin Recognized with the Order of Ontario. Retrieved April 7, 2009 http://idrf.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=290&Itemid=139

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