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June 29, 2016

Islamic centre rising on 'the highway to heaven'

Brent Davis - Waterloo Region Record

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KITCHENER (June 28, 2016) - In a field off a rural stretch of Glasgow Street, a decades-old dream is slowly taking shape.

There, the Kitchener-Waterloo Islamic Association is constructing what it is touting as the largest Islamic centre in Canada on a 4.5-hectare (11-acre) plot of farmland purchased by the group in 1998.

The first of three planned buildings, a multi-purpose facility, is well underway; officials hope it will be complete in about a year's time. It's expected to include amenities such as a multimedia Islamic library and prayer and gymnasium space.

Association vice-president and University of Waterloo professor emeritus Mohamed Elmasry said they'd also like to have an international-sized outdoor soccer field completed during the first phase that could host competitions.

Subsequent buildings will house a mosque and a school, Elmasry said.

"The Muslim community in Kitchener-Waterloo is growing very fast," he said, pointing to the recent arrival of Syrian refugee families and large Muslim student populations at local universities as factors in that growth.

"We need to look at 20 years from now," he said. "Not to serve just our local community but also to serve the one million Muslims from coast to coast."

The association was founded in 1985. Elmasry said the group has raised more than $2 million since the Islamic centre project began, and said they need another $1 million in order to complete the first phase.

The subsequent two phases could each cost an additional $5 million to $6 million, he said. The association hopes the entire project can be completed in about three years.

"We are a charitable organization," said Elmasry. "If a donation comes tomorrow, we finish the project."

Elmasry said the group is looking for donations from across Canada and from graduates of local universities who are now working overseas.

The association is also preparing applications for provincial and national infrastructure grants, he said.

The group is inviting the public to the site at 1680 Glasgow Street for a barbecue on Aug. 27 at 3 p.m., with a rain date of Aug. 28 at 3 p.m. Admission is free. They're also hosting a fundraising dinner in September.

When the association purchased the land on the edge of the city nearly 20 years ago, it was quite isolated and difficult to get to, Elmasry said. But with the construction of nearby Ira Needles Boulevard, access is much improved.

"Our timing is good," he said.

There are already a handful of churches and faith-based organizations along that stretch of Glasgow Street, and Elmasry said his association has made arrangements with their Baptist neighbours to share parking lots as needed.

"People say this is the highway to heaven," he said.

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