Members of the Red Deer Islamic Centre need more space. (Advocate file photo.)

Red Deer’s growing Muslim population needs more worship, community space

Affordability is an issue in finding a larger mosque site

Members of a mosque in Red Deer’s Deer Park neighbourhood are seeking a bigger space — but they are finding a scarcity of affordable options.

The Red Deer Islamic Centre has grown to about 1,000 members since absorbing about 400 newly arrived Syrians over the past few years, said member Farrukh Amanullah.

Friday prayer services are now being held in two shifts to accommodate everyone who wants to pray.

Amanullah, who’s grateful a nearby church has offered centre members free parking to help alleviate neighbourhood pressures, believes it’s culturally important for the community to be able to gather together.

But after years of looking for a bigger mosque space, few options have turned up.

The latest attempt was to open another mosque at 4419 55th St., site of the Al-Furqan Learning Centre. But Red Deer’s municipal planning commission recently denied the application because of the neighbourhood’s noise and parking concerns.

Amanullah said his community would ideally like to find three acres within city limits. Accessibility is important since it’s optimal for Muslims to pray daily, he noted.

But he added that land in Red Deer goes for about $1 million an acre — and then additional money would be required for construction.

Various older buildings with parking spaces have been considered, but were generally found to be too expensive and in need of extensive renovations.

Amanullah figures his Muslim community could raise between $2 million and $3 million at most for the project, if a rural acreage near Alto Reste Cemetery (which could not be approved for a mosque development because of traffic flow concerns) was sold.

Amanullah, who’s a doctor, envisions building a complex that includes a school and community centre with a basement gym/track area for newly arrived Muslim women who are culturally modest and feel uncomfortable being around swimmers at city recreation spaces.

It’s not an issue for people born in Canada, he added, but newly arrived Muslim women need to stay healthy by having an exercise space they feel comfortable in.

“We have good relationships with the city and the county,” he added, but so far, no suitable, affordable site has been found.

Erin Stuart, bylaw and licensing manager for the City of Red Deer, said economic development staff are continuing to work with members of the Al-Furqan Learning Centre to identify potential sites since the planning commission denied the 55th Street mosque proposal.

Each neighbourhood has a public service lot that can accommodate places of worship, said Stuart. As well, Red Deer’s downtown could accommodate a mosque as on-site parking is not necessary, according to commercial C-1 zoning bylaws.

Meanwhile, a private fundraising campaign is on. But Amanullah said without any land, there’s little motivation for people to donate toward construction of a mosque.

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