Getting closer to God in the twilight hours

A visit inside Toronto's 'mother of all mosques' for 4 a.m. prayer

Morning prayer
Imam Hamdy Abdelghaffar leads prayer after 4 a.m. during the holy month of Ramadan at the Jami Mosque in Toronto.  Sarina Qadri

The call to prayer echoes within the high ceilings of Jami Mosque just east of High Park in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood. Birds begin chirping outside what was once a Presbyterian church and converted in 1969 to become the city’s first Islamic worship centre.

Soon the sun will rise, signalling the end of the morning prayer.

At 4 a.m. while most of the city lies asleep, Shaikh Hamdy Abdelghaffar’s calming voice rings through the speakers as he leads the rows of people standing behind him through the first prayer of the day, called Fajr.

Abdelghaffar, 55, says he loves what he does.It is a very, very interesting thing to be in a position where you guide people to the right path,” he said.

Abdelghaffar has been an imam for over 35 years. Seven of those years were spent at the Jami Mosque developing many strong relationships with the growing community.

The word imam has multiple meanings, but the word itself most often refers to the person leading prayers. But Abdelghaffar does much more than simply lead prayers. He’s a community leader who offers guidance and support to others who need a helping hand, he says.

There are over 20 mosques in Toronto. As the oldest in the city, Jami Mosque is often referred to as the “mother of all mosques.” According to the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), Toronto has the largest Muslim community  in Canada with over 250,000 Muslims.

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It is a very, very interesting thing to be in a position where you guide people to the right path.”

    –Shaikh Hamdy Abdelghaffar

Each year, Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan for one month. This year, the sacred month is May. Ramadan involves fasting from sunrise to sunset. Throughout this month, Muslims focus on getting closer to God by praying the five daily prayers, reading the Quran, giving to charity, and bettering themselves as individuals.

When the sun begins to set, water bottles, dates, and other snacks are put out for people to break their fast before the fourth prayer of the day in the mosque.

Leading the five daily prayers, Abdelghaffar discusses the importance of being a good role model during the month of Ramadan. “Waking up at 4 a.m. to pray is hard, especially because you are waking up in the middle of the night, but there’s so much to accomplish,” he says.

Because of the holy month, more people are seen coming into the mosque, especially during the first prayer which happens at around 4:35 a.m.

Dozens of shelves filled with Qurans and a variety of Islamic books are available for use during any time of the day. Sitting on the soft red carpet that covers the floor of the mosque, Mohamed Yasr is seen reading the Quran from left to right. Yasr is a taxi driver who stops by the mosque before starting his shift every morning. “You see so many new and familiar faces and it’s so beautiful, everyone fits together, we are a community,” says Yasr.

As the lights are switched off after the last prayer, some are still seen with their heads on prayer mats, taking books off the shelves, or sleeping soundly in the now dimly lit mosque until the call to prayer echoes against the walls for the next day, and the birds begin to sing with the rising sun once more.

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Posted: Jun 14 2019 3:31 pm
Filed under: Features Toronto at 4 a.m.