The first immigrants from Middle East come to Canada in 1919-1920, after the end of the First World War.
They come through the 1920ies. Most of these immigrants were Arabs from Lebanons and Syria, and they spoke French, and thus they found it easier to settle in Quebec. There were however some English speaking Arabs who came mostly from Britain.
The first Arab immigrants generally assimilated into the Catholic milieu of Quebec, and if they practised Islam, it was in the privacy of their homes.
A number of them settled in Verdun (a town on the Island of Montreal at those times, a Montreal’s borough today). There were, at that time, about five Muslim students at McGill and University of Montreal, and thus these students joined the first Institute of Islamic Studies, attached to the McGill University since 1952. This Institute’s director was Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith.
The same student found a Muslim Association and Islamic Centre, in 1958. Mr. Habibullah Khan is elected its first President. The main objective of the association was “to preserve Islamic heritage and create an Islamic environment for the migrants and their growing children”.
In those days, Muslims of all sects - Sunnis, Shias and Ahmadis congregated in one place together. Seeds of a split appeared later, in the mid-sixties. One of the prime objectives of the handful of the first Muslims was growth of influence of the Islam in Quebec, so they decided to construct a Mosque in Montreal. A fund-raising campaign was launched for the purpose, and donations and proceeds from various functions such as Bazaars and Dinners, attended by the locals willing to help the poor, helped in the accumulation of funds for the Mosque. Later, Centre had acquired the services of a lawyer, Mr. James Robb with Stikeman and Elliot for its incorporation.
In the 1960ies, in Quebec, all marriages and births had to be registered in the church, as there was no civil registry.
The Muslim community faced bravely this enormous problem. The good lawyers advised the Muslims that the problem could be solved if the Quebec Government would recognise Islam as a minority religion. At that moment, the Liberal party was in power, with Honourable Jean Lesage as Premier of Quebec. Honourable Jean Lesage had been a partner in the firm of Stikeman and Elliot before becoming Premier and was sympathetic to the idea.
So the wheels were set in motion and an application for an Act to incorporate Islamic Centre of Quebec-El Markaz Islami was made The National Assembly voted the Bill 194 on the 6th of August 1965. The Islam was thus granted the rights of Civil Status.
This was an historical step for the Muslim Community in Quebec. The recognition of Islam as a minority religion was a big milestone in the history and development of the Muslim community By October, 1967, the first Mosque was opened, and Roohi Kurdy was its first Imam. Later, in the mid-seventies, the Shia Muslim Community purchased a building in Notre-Dame-de-Grace and converted it into an Imambara.
There were classes for Islamic teachings and reading of Holy Quran for children, and after the prayer, there was some socialising among the members and their families. People from other communities were invited as well to show them the Islamic values.
By 1971, the ever-increasing population of Muslims in Quebec reached close to 5,000 and the facilities of the first Mosque were stretched to its limits. There was an urgent need for action. The City of St. Laurent gave the building permit for the construction, some private sector corporations, such as Royal Bank of Canada and Steinbergs Ltd. made donations to the mosque fund, as well as many households. Just as Montreal Muslim Community was growing in numbers, other Canadian cities, such as Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax and other were experiencing a boom in Muslim population as well. The need for a burial ground surfaced, and the immediate problem was resolved in 1990, when a lot of land in Laval was reserved for a cemetery.
That would be a cemetery for all Muslims irrespective of their sect. In the seventies there was a movement sweeping university campuses across North America, the Muslim Students Association, funded mainly by Saudi Arabia, spread over all the country. These adepts have been successful in attracting large number of people. The mid and late seventies saw further increase in the numbers of Muslim Community in Quebec. Many new associations, mosques, Islamic Centers were formed.
Middle-Easterners see a welcoming home with tremendous potential. Well, it’s taken a long time for Quebec to be thought as a province where many Middle-Easterners come to live, but it is getting there…