Mosque to be built in Esquimalt
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Esquimalt is getting a mosque, the first permanent facility the Ismaili Muslim community has had in Greater Victoria.
“It’s going to be really really positive,” Mayor Chris Clement said. Esquimalt council voted 6-1 in favour of a zoning amendment that will allow the vacant Bank of Montreal building at the corner of Esquimalt Road and Grenville Avenue to be used as a jamatkhana – a mosque, as well as an educational and cultural centre.
“We’re humbled and pleased by the council decision,” said Mehmoona Moosa-Mitha, one of the 150 local members of the Ismaili Muslim faith.
Ismaili Muslims belong to the Shia branch of Islam, which has about 20 per cent of Muslims worldwide. The other 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni. Local Ismailis have been leasing a building for several years.
The Esquimalt Road site will be the first they have owned. There are 17 other jamatkhanas in B.C.
A public hearing about the amendment saw a standing room only crowd pack Esquimalt council chamber Monday night.
Clement took a firm stance at the meeting from the outset, saying that council wouldn’t tolerate comments focusing on religion or ethnic origin. That was prompted by a letter written to council by two residents who said even contemplating the idea of a mosque was “insulting,” and suggested that mosques be banned in Canada. Municipal staff also received a couple of “nasty” phone calls denouncing Muslims, Clement said.
“I think the comments come more out of ignorance,” Clement said. “There is that little bit of paranoia from people, because of some of the societal reaction to the word Muslim these days.”
Public opinion was split at the meeting, but not because of the building being used by Muslims. Several residents spoke out against the building, which is in the middle of Esquimalt’s commercial core, being used as a place of worship, regardless of the faith. Some said the commercial core should remain commercial, as that encourages other businesses.
But the building has been largely empty for the last five years, used periodically as a call centre, and during the federal election. And there haven’t been proposals from other businesses wanting to use it.
Numerous people said parking will become even more difficult in the 1200-block of Esquimalt Road, and also had concerns over tax exemptions generally given to religious organizations.
“It’s hard enough to get into bloody Tim Hortons as it is now,” said Wood Street resident Bruce Brown, to laughter from the crowd.
But several others, as well as council, liked the idea of mixed use in the commercial core. They also liked that the building will be bought by a group with a long history of community involvement, as well as plans for an esthetically pleasing renovation to the present building. Tentative plans call for wall mosaics, as well as landscaping including a fountain.
All councillors, except for Barbara Desjardins, voted in favour of the zoning amendment. While Desjardins said she’s in favour of the project, she couldn’t support amending the bylaw that applies to all the commercial core to include assembly use. Assembly use includes gathering of people for religious, charitable, philanthropic, social, entertainment, cultural, private educational and private recreational purposes.
The jamatkhana could be operating by spring.
© Times Colonist 2006
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