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'A huge step for the Muslim community': New mosque opens in St. James

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A Winnipeg family hopes to bring together the Muslim community with the creation of a new mosque in the St. James neighbourhood.

The Beit Nabala Mosque opened its doors late last week – welcoming the community to come and pray together for the first time in this area of the city.

"Praying together is very important in Islam and for Muslims. In St. James, there isn't anywhere for people to gather together and pray together," said Ramsey Zeid, the president of the Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba.

"This is a huge step for the Muslim community, especially in St. James."

Zeid helped set up the mosque with his parents. He said it has been a dream of theirs to create a mosque in the St. James area.

"A place where people can come and gather and pray together and worship together – a safe place for Muslims and Palestinians in Winnipeg to come together," he said.

The name of the mosque holds a special place for Zeid's father Wajih. It is named after the Palestinian town where he was born.

"It's very important to me because it's my hometown," Wajih told CTV News.

When he was four years old, his family had to flee their home due to the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. His family spent time living in a refugee camp before immigrating to Canada, and eventually Winnipeg's St. James neighbourhood.

"St. James becomes a second home," Wajih said. "I thought now's the time for me to do something for my community."

This, as many Muslims are once again being displaced by the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel.

Zeid said the Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba is expecting an increase in Muslim immigrants due to the conflict.

"They need a place to worship and to practise the Islamic religion," he said.

He hopes this mosque will help them find their community.

"It's a place where people can come and feel safe, to look for guidance, to come and have maybe a few minutes of peace when things look not so peaceful around the world."

It comes at a time when Manitoba is already seeing an increase in its Muslim population. Ruheen Aziz with the Manitoba Islamic Association said census records show in the past few years, the province's Muslim population has grown from 15,000 to 25,000.

"That's a tremendous growth," Aziz said. "Growth like that in the last few years just shows that the needs of the community are also growing. St. James is in an area that was requiring a community space for a long time."

Muhamed Ali, who was at the mosque praying on Monday, said before Beit Nabala opened in St. James, he would have had to attend mosques that were a 20 to 30-minute drive away. He said it is nice to be able to pray in his community.

"It's beautiful," Ali said.

The new mosque will also include children’s education programming and the offices of the Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba.

It's located at 325 Wallasey Street, and is open daily for prayer.

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