Imam at Al Rashid a leader for Edmonton’s 90,000 Muslims

SHARE

SHAFAQNA - When Imam Jamal Hammoud first visited the Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton in 1987, he knew it was special. The city’s first mosque has deep roots in the community, the original house of worship built in 1938 on 111th Avenue and 102nd Street. That building has since been moved and preserved at Fort Edmonton.

“I consider it like the first mosque in Arabia. It’s special. I feel like Islam started in North America at Al Rashid,” Imam Jamal said in a recent interview.

But what really impressed him when he became the imam at Al Rashid two years ago was the faith community’s long tradition of reaching out to neighbours living near the Calder mosque, part of the Canadian Islamic Centre at 13070 113th Street.

“I found that the mosque in Edmonton is building really good relationships with the non-Muslims,” says the imam, noting regular open houses, the Taste of Ramadan event and active interfaith dialogue with other Edmonton faith communities.

Outreach

“They have very nice habits at this mosque. It’s special. Before the day of Eid, during Ramadan, they visit all the neighbours, like hundreds of them, with cards, inviting them for a special dinner.”

The mosque also hosts about two tours of visitors each week from schoolchildren and university classes. “We receive people and we make presentations to them about the Muslim religion.”

Since charity is one of the pillars of the Islamic faith, Al Rashid helps the city’s needy by collecting donations from all local mosques for the Edmonton Food Bank.

Along with other caring Canadians, Hammoud is also tackling the growing problem of how to help refugees come to Canada from countries devastated by war. Al Rashid is working closely with the city’s Mennonite community to sponsor refugees from Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.

Daily duties

Hammoud, 52, shares the leadership at Al Rashid with another imam, Sherif Ayoup. A volunteer board of members administers a multitude of services and events. Preaching, leading prayers, marriages, funerals, counselling — an imam’s duties aren’t that different from those of leaders in other faith communities. But Al Rashid’s special status places a heavier burden on its imams.

Al Rashid is the supervising mosque for all other Sunni mosques in the city, serving about 90,000 Muslims. It owns the Edmonton Islamic Academy — a K-12 school — and the Muslim cemetery, so all funerals occur via Al Rashid. It also administers a post-secondary scholarship program. Al Rashid’s institute for those wanting to memorize the Qu’ran currently has about 500 students enrolled.

Marriage counselling is a huge part of an imam’s duties, says Hammoud, who meets weekly with the Alberta Council of Imams to finalize divorces. As the representative in Canada of the Grand Mufti of Lebanon and the Supreme Muslim Court of Lebanon, Hammoud is the only imam authorized to issue divorce decrees for Lebanese Muslims in Canada. Divorces by Canadian courts are recognized in the process leading to Islamic divorce decrees, which are then sealed by the Lebanese consulate in Ottawa.

Imam Jamal also keeps busy mentoring four Edmonton-born University of Alberta students whose goal is to become imams. As the senior imam for Alberta, he serves both Edmonton and Calgary, where he served for 25 years prior to moving to Edmonton. He is hosting an interfaith dialogue there with Christian clergy on Sept. 28 and is planning to organize a similar event for Edmonton. He’s eagerly anticipating the three-day Festival of Sacrifice, or Eid-al-Adha, which begins Thursday.

Fostering understanding

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Hammoud and another imam founded the Canadian Council of Imams, an effort that included meeting then prime minister Paul Martin. Since then, Hammoud has initiated the Alberta Council of Imams and the Alberta Muslim Council, vehicles for co-ordinating activities and services as well as governing the faithful.

Early days

Hammoud started his journey toward becoming an imam as a boy of 11, sent to El Azhar Institute in Beirut to learn the Qu’ran. “My father noticed that my voice is very beautiful and he said ‘You are created for this.’ ”

Winning prizes for memorizing the entire Qu’ran, young Hammoud attracted attention in Canada. After graduating Al-Madinah Islamic University, he was persuaded to emigrate in 1986 with wife Roula, to serve as an imam in London, Ont. In 1990, the family, which eventually included five children, moved to Calgary.

“I love Canada; all my children were born here,” Hammoud says with a broad smile.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here