Kamloops city council seemed to take a vow of silence after being approached by the Kamloops Islamic Association (KIA), which came to city hall seeking a commitment to work toward establishing a mosque within city limits.
The group spoke to council on July 13, outlining its philanthropic work and programming and explaining the need for a larger, centrally located facility. However, when asked following the presentation by KIA president Faisal Siddiqui for a motion directing staff to look into selling city-owned land on which to build a mosque to the registered charity, no such motion was put forward by council.
Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson asked if anyone wanted to put forward a motion to have staff review the concept, but was met with silence. He then said he would do so, but pulled back.
“I can’t do that? OK,” Hamer-Jackson said.
He later told KTW he got the sense from staff and council in the room that he could not put such a motion forward, though no one had specifically stated during the meeting that he could not.
“They indicated I couldn’t,” Hamer-Jackson said, adding he could not specifically remember what cue he got that made him refrain from making that motion.
Coun. Mike O’Reilly put forward a motion to issue a letter of thanks to the KIA for highlighting the work it does in the community, which was approved by council 8-0. Coun. Katie Neustaeter was not in attendance for the meeting as she was on vacation.
The KIA has its eye on a piece of city-owned property at McGill Road and Bunker Road, a location seen as ideal as it is along a transit route and is close to Thompson Rivers University, making it a convenient location for the KIA’s main demographic, which is Muslim students.
KIA director Manahil Bawany told KTW discussions with the city about buying that specific property have gone nowhere.
“Nobody’s told us no, but nobody’s told us yes,” Bawany said.
She said the KIA has been in communication with the city on multiple occasions about the property and has been told there are plans for the site, but has not been told what those plans are.
According to the association, it has also had numerous talks with the municipality, developers and realtors in recent years about a variety of possible Kamloops locations for a mosque.
The KIA currently operates its Ayesha Mosque in Knutsford, but for years has hoped to move from that rural location to within the city limits of Kamloops.
The association has noted numerous issues with its current location‚ including its remote location and difficulty to access by those without a vehicle, the building being too small for its programs and lack of water and sewer service. According to the KIA, the mosque’s size has limited the activities and community services provided at the facility and larger events have required renting larger venues.
The KIA is hoping the City of Kamloops will consider a move similar to one between Prince George’s Islamic Association and that city’s council in 2004, when the municipality sold the group a piece of land, upon which it constructed a mosque.
Bawany said the KIA has not asked the city for any grant or financial aid in seeking the sale.
“If the city is willing to sell it to us, we’ll produce the finances,” Bawany said. “We want them to see the benefit in us having that location.”
According to the KIA, its membership has grown from 34 families in 2007, when the Knutsford mosque property was purchased, to its current population of 94 families and 600 TRU students.
Despite the growing numbers, the KIA said it has also lost membership over the years due to people moving from Kamloops, noting almost all of them have cited wanting to move to a bigger city with a mosque that can provide more programs and services as a key reason for leaving.
“When people move to a city, they want to see more programs, especially if they have kids,” Bawany said.
According to the KIA, among those who have left are 16 doctors — three of whom left recently.
There has long been a shortage of doctors in Kamloops and the KIA believes it can be a boon to the recruiting process if it had an adequate facility to attract and maintain Muslim medical professionals.