New Mosque aims to change perception of Islam in British Columbia

Terrorist acts committed by Islamic extremists around the world have made life difficult at times for Muslims living in B.C.

Leaders at the new Baitur Rahman mosque in Delta, aware of TV-fed perceptions, are at pains to emphasize their ­friendly intentions.

“We promote love for all and hatred for none,” says Rizwan Peerzada, president of a 124-year-old Islamic sect known as Ahmadiyya Muslim.

Ahmadi is a relatively new branch of Islam — Shia and Sunni are others — which has millions of followers in 200 countries around the world.

Regional president Muhammad Chaudhry says fanatics can “hijack” religions for their own purposes.

“It happens in other religions, too, not just Muslims. They exploit and use the name of religion for their own ends,” he says.

As a result of bombings such as 9/11, the mosque’s religious leader, Balal Khokhar, has been cursed while delivering flyers door-to-door in Metro Vancouver.

“Sometimes people think Islam is a very violent religion, but they are mistaken,” he says.

“People get their impressions from television, where Muslims as a group have been portrayed as terrorists. However, a very small number cause disorder and havoc,” he says.

Khokhar wants to assure Canadians that love of country is part of the Ahmadi faith.

“Wherever we live, we have to be loyal to the country we are in,” he says.

“All of us in this country have different backgrounds, but we are Canadians. We want to understand each other and work together.”

The $8-million mosque, which opened its doors in June, is one of the largest in the country.

At 33,000 square feet, its main sanctuary holds almost 1,000 people. There are also classrooms and a gymnasium, which the leaders are eager to share with the community.

The mosque’s leaders are fond of philosophical debate and have criss-crossed the province sponsoring ­discussions with many different faiths.

One topic that comes up is why suffering exists in the world if there is a God.

Chaudhry says Muslims believe sufferings are a blessing because all progress is based on suffering.

“For instance, a woman goes through the pain of pregnancy in order to give birth to a child,” he says.

Followers have been observing the month-long fast of Ramadan, which is intended to purify the soul and strengthen moral values such as truthfulness and fairness.

No eating or drinking is permitted from dawn until dusk; modest amounts of food and liquids are allowed after the sun sets.

“We get hungry, which reminds us how it feels for Africans going through starvation,” says Khokhar.

He recently returned from a six-month stint in Gambia, an African country with a Muslim majority.

“It was so different from Canada: the weather, poverty and language. The room had a tin roof,” he says. “You hear about ­violence in Africa, but it is peaceful in ­Gambia.”

The Ahmadi face persecution in ­traditional Muslim countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan because their ideas about certain fundamentals of the religion are different from those of orthodox Muslims.

In Pakistan, the Ahmadi face government-sponsored sanctions.

Khokhar has an uncle in Pakistan who has been ambushed and attacked.

He says the Ahmadis’ mosque in Pakistan must be surrounded with barricades and followers must be constantly on guard against bombers.

“In spite of those things taking place in Pakistan, we will not stand and retaliate,” says Khokhar.

“It is ingrained in our souls. We have to show by example.”