Iqaluit Muslims gather to observe Ramadan: ‘The community is being established’

Click to play video: 'Muslims across the GTA prepare for Ramadan'
Muslims across the GTA prepare for Ramadan
WATCH: Muslims across the GTA prepare for Ramadan – Apr 1, 2022

A high-pitched sound like a muffled trumpet rings out over Iqaluit’s mosque as a snowmobile zips across a frozen lake outside.

Abdoul Karim Diakite takes off his winter boots and climbs the wooden stairs to the sun-filled men’s prayer room. It has sat empty for much of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s the week before Ramadan and Iqaluit’s Muslim community is getting ready to come together for the first time in a year when public health restrictions meant they couldn’t gather.

“The mosque is not only a place to pray. It’s a place to socialize, to talk to other Muslims,” Diakite said.

“When that doesn’t exist, it takes a toll on people.”

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The men’s prayer room, across the hall from the women’s prayer room, is carpeted in a bold red pattern. The space has rectangular windows on three of its four white walls. The mosque opened in 2016 and Diakite said Iqaluit’s Muslim community has grown ever since.

“It used to just be men. Now we see wives and families coming too. The community is being established.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: Islamic students in Calgary mark Ramadan with thank you cards to front-line workers

Diakite, who gives Friday sermons at the mosque, has lived in Iqaluit since 2011. Before the mosque was built, he said, a handful of Muslims would gather in someone’s home to pray.

Now, there are more people than there is space in the prayer room.

“People are praying outside the room.”

The Iqaluit Masjid is shown on Friday, April 1, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dustin Patar.

Diakite said he hesitated about moving to the North, unsure if he would be able to practise his religion in Iqaluit, but people have been nothing but accepting.

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“We’re not the first Muslims to move to an isolated Arctic area. We’re not inventing the wheel,” he said.

“We want to be role models for other communities on how it can work in the Arctic.”

Iqaluit’s long daylight hours during the summer are one big difference about observing Ramadan in the North. Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk for 30 days.

Click to play video: 'How to Have a Healthy Ramadan'
How to Have a Healthy Ramadan

The holy month falls in April this year, so most people will follow Iqaluit’s bright hours for fasting because the days aren’t too long yet, Diakite said. But a few years ago, when Ramadan fell in June, the sun would set about 10 p.m. and rise shortly after, so some people followed Ottawa’s daylight hours.

Diakite said he has always followed Iqaluit’s sunrise and sunset during Ramadan since moving to the capital.

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“Once you start thinking it’s just going to be too long, that’s it. You put up that mental barrier.”

Iqaluit, which is below the Arctic Circle, does see the sun set in the summer, though only briefly. Muslims in High Arctic communities where the sun never sets follow Ottawa’s daylight hours, Diakite said. “The point is not that you suffer.”

Click to play video: 'Muslims in Durham Region prepare for a restriction free Ramadan'
Muslims in Durham Region prepare for a restriction free Ramadan

Diakite, who grew up in Niger in West Africa, said although the days might be long in the North, he believes the cooler weather is better for fasting.

“Having nice weather through the summer, I think a lot of people would prefer to fast in Iqaluit.”

The Islamic calendar moves up every year, so Ramadan will soon fall during Iqaluit’s winter months when there are only a few hours of daylight.

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“We’ll fast for a few hours,” Diakite said. “That’s the other blessing that we have in Iqaluit. It’s one extreme to another.”

The mosque’s prayer room is warm as light from the sun shines through its windows. Diakite puts his shoes back on and locks the door while he looks at snowmobiles crossing the lake.

“There’s a lot of excitement this year to be together, to pray together. It’s really about unity, about making the community stronger.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2022.

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