Language Learning at the Mosque
The Ajyal Center in downtown Vancouver is an Islamic center and mosque. This past fall, I provided child care for children at the Ajyal Center during a Arabic / English language exchange through Language Partners BC . Many of the women participating had small children so looking after their kids helped them to focus and participate on the language exchange. I had never been inside a mosque before in Canada, and certainly never during prayer time, but was happy to experience both last year.
On Saturday, the Ajyal Center held an open house to thank the neighborhood for the their support during a difficult time: the shootings at a mosque in Quebec. During the open house I was able to find out much more about what an Islamic center or mosque might offer in the neighborhood.
The Ajyal center provides many of the same activities and resources that a community center provides, while also being a focal point for the Muslim community in Vancouver. There are language classes in English and Arabic. The Language Partners BC language exchange worked with the Ajyal center. The participants did not necessarily identify as Muslim (it is not a requirement) and the exchange was held in the facility. Youth programs, math tutoring, and day camps are provided for kids, as well as religious courses. I found out that there are yoga and fitness classes too.
The religious purposes served by the Ajyal Center include Salat, Jummah, Ramadan and Eid.
The five pillars of Islam are:
- Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith.
- Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day.
- Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy.
- Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan.
- Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca.
The center provides a place to pray for Salat. I found out during my time in the center that the times for Salat will move around quite a bit, especially when the days are shorter in the winter time, for the sunrise, mid day, and sunset prayers.
Jummah is Friday prayers. In Islam, Friday is the holy day – as Sunday is the holy day in the Christian tradition. Just like going to church on Sunday is important to the observant, going to mosque on Friday is its parallel.
Ramadan takes place during the 9th month in the Islamic calendar and is marked by fasting and charity. Sawm (the fast) is a pillar of Islam. Iftar is the breaking of the fast each day at sundown, with courses of meals that usually start with dates. Iftar is a special time to be with friends and family and congregate at a place like the Aijal center (although, again, you do not need to practice Islam to share Iftar with your friends).
Eid is the celebration after the month of fasting at Ramadan. It can be celebrated for 1, 2, or 3 days. People will say, Eid Mubārak (“Blessed Eid”) or ‘Eid Sa‘īd (“Happy Eid”). Although Eid is celebrated differently in different parts of the world, the emphasis is always on generosity and hospitality.
When we left the Ajyal Center, my friend remarked on how much our visit reminded her of going to open houses at the church. With all of the fear and misinformation running rampant, I really invite those curious to reach out to their local mosque or Islamic center. You will find people practicing their faith, celebrating tradition, and working in their community to make it a better place.