Muslims in the central and northern areas of the city now have two new options for prayers and community gatherings.
The Masjid Bilal opened its doors in rented quarters at 431 Thames Ave. late last month, and a new mosque located in a former church at 1551 Arlington St., renamed the Guidance Centre, is scheduled to open this summer.
"Muslims used to drive from here to (Grand Mosque on) Waverley and downtown and now they can stay here" in Elmwood, explains Kadar Ahmed, board member of the Winnipeg Islamic Centre, which includes Masjid Bilal.
The rented 10,000-square-foot space features large cloakrooms, offices, several small classrooms for language classes, dining facilities, a small gym equipped with foosball, air hockey and ping-pong tables, and a large worship space that can accommodate about 250.
Women pray in an adjoining room connected by a doorway and equipped with a sound system.
"The worship area is good, but when you have this additional area where families can come play, it meets the needs of the community," says Imran Rahman, who estimates about 50 Muslim families live nearby in Elmwood and East Kildonan.
The location is also convenient for families of students attending the nearby Al-Hijra Islamic School on Desalaberry Avenue.
"It's easier for them to pray here (on Friday afternoon) and pick up their children," says Rahman, who has four children.
The Islamic Centre is located just south of Elmwood High School and adjacent to a playground, soccer fields and an outdoor basketball court. Previously, the centre offered recreational and after-school programs out of the Pakistani Association building on Ross Avenue.
"When they were playing downtown, they were at risk for joining gangs," said Ahmed, a father of three.
That's the same reason for opening a mosque and community centre in the North End, explains Dr. Nasser Warriach, president of the Guidance Centre.
"There's no mosque in this area, and there's lots of (Muslim) community (members) in this area. That's why we're opening here, to keep them away from drugs and gangs," says the physician at Seven Oaks General Hospital.
Warriach is still awaiting the occupancy permit for the building, which will accommodate about 100 people in the prayer hall. He hopes the building will able to open sometime during Ramadan, which ends on Aug. 7.
The new mosques are a sign of the growing Muslim population in Winnipeg, estimated to be about 15,000, says Dr. Jennifer Rahman, president of the Winnipeg Central Mosque on Ellice Avenue.
"WCM is filled to capacity on congregational Friday prayers, and when school is out we actually have to hold two different prayer times on Fridays at WCM to ensure that people are able to attend," she says in an email message.
"With extra mosques, this helps distribute the masses."
The new mosques are not officially affiliated with the Manitoba Islamic Association, the organization that runs the Grand Mosque and the Hazelwood Mosque, both in south Winnipeg, but speakers rotate between the mosques for the Friday afternoon sermons, explains MIA president Ismael Mukhtar, who recently delivered the sermon at the Masjid Bilal.
"Even though, structurally, they don't belong to the same organization, we function as one congregation," says Mukhtar.