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Call to prayer

AMONG a cluster of small homes in a suburb just off Marine Drive, a single spire rises above a glass-covered building.

AMONG a cluster of small homes in a suburb just off Marine Drive, a single spire rises above a glass-covered building.

While it hasn't officially opened yet, North Vancouver's newest mosque featuring opportunities for five daily prayers is serving the Muslim community at 1398 West 15th Street.

The mosque is called Ar-Rahman, loosely translated as the servant of the most compassionate, merciful, beneficent one, according to acting Imam Abu Abdus-Salaam, who smiles and adds, "But it's just a name."

Located on the former site of St. Richard's Anglican Church, the centre attracts about 100 faithful Muslims for Friday prayers each week, according to Abdus-Salaam.

"In Islam, there is no membership to any mosque. There is no barrier to anyone. There is no distinction when they come here," he says. "When we stand there we don't know who is standing beside us except we know it's another Muslim. . . . You can be standing, literally beside a beggar, or literally you can be standing next to a billionaire."

Neighbours, Muslims, and anyone else with an interest in the mosque will be welcome at the official opening, which is tentatively scheduled for the beginning of May, according to Abdus-Salaam.

After purchasing the site for $3.05 million, construction of the mosque lasted approximately one year, according to Masjid-ar-Rahman, president of the North Vancouver Islamic Association.

The prospect of construction on the site worried a few residents, according to Abdus-Salaam.

"They were a little uneasy at the very beginning because they thought that this would be a lot of high-traffic and a lot congestion and a lot of noise," he says.

However, with most congregations limited to one hour, there haven't been any issues with neighbours thus far, he says.

Aside from a large, flat-screen TV displaying images of Mecca and the times of each daily prayer, the expansive prayer room is largely bare.

Chandeliers hang from the high ceiling, illuminating the room's odd angle.

"We could not shift the building but we have to shift the carpet," Abdus-Salaam explains, discussing the need for Muslims to face Mecca during prayer.

Abdus-Salaam frequently takes to the pulpit. During spring break, he recognized the large number of children in the mosque and took the opportunity to preach about honouring your parents and a larger concept similar to karma.

"What goes around comes around," he says. "In Arabic terminology it meant: whatever your hands put forth, that's exactly what you will reap."

The mosque features an entrance for men and a side entrance for women. The women's prayer room is substantially smaller than the prayer room for men because women are encouraged to worship from home, Abdus-Salaam says.

While work and study often preclude prayer during weekdays, all Muslims are encouraged to attend services on Friday.

"On Friday everybody should leave their job, leave what they're doing, and come to the prayer. So they don't have an excuse," he says.

The times of each prayer vary according to rise and setting of the sun. In the middle of summer, Muslims are expected to offer their first prayer at 4: 15 a.m. and their final prayer at about 11: 30 p.m., according to Abdus-Salaam.

While much of the religion is traditional, the 21st century has a way of intervening.

"That's an international symbol: no phones," Abdus-Salaam says, gesturing to a picture of a cell phone skewered by a red line affixed to the prayer room's north wall.

After years of offering prayers from rented recreation centres, the mosque is a welcome addition to North Vancouver for many Muslims.

"We used to be renting beside Capilano University on Friday only. We used to have about 20 guys at the most," he says. "Now we are having close to 100."

Attendees in the first weeks have been mainly Sunni Muslims, but Abdus-Salaam stresses that the mosque is for everyone.

"This is basically the community's mosque. It belongs to North Vancouver and everyone's welcome here," he says.

The construction of the mosque was largely the product of Muslims in North Vancouver, according to Abdus-Salaam.

"There's a lot of money, volunteer and effort that was put into it by members of the community," he says. "Had it been a full, professional and business venture, it could've been done in a year."

For Muslims, the mosque is designed to be the centre of their lives.

"Learning takes place here, problems are solved here, conflicts are resolved in this place, people are getting married here, people will be divorced here if they have to according to Islamic law, I mean the Shariah," Abdus-Salaam says.

There are also plans to attain a funeral home licence in order to conduct funerals at the mosque, according to Abdus-Salaam.

"We're about to secure our own burial plot where Muslims can be buried," he says.

The mosque may also incorporate a daycare, and plans are underway to build a small playground on its lot.

The mosque includes four classrooms as well as a kitchen. For Abdus-Salaam, one of the most important features is the large windows that border much of the mosque.

We don't want people to be passing on the road and say, 'What goes on within the walls here?' For those reasons, we make it as transparent as possible," he says.