West Vancouver’s Farouk Elesseily’s been working to build mosques in B.C. for more than half his life. And with the B.C. Muslim Association, the organization he helped found in his living room in the 1960s, he’s been successful in doing so.
Communities from Prince George to Nanaimo have seen mosques built with the help of Elesseily and his associates, but he vows there’s more work to do.
“I’m still working to build more mosques for the people to pray,” says Elesseily.
“All my life, until I die.”
Until recently, the focus of the B.C Muslim Association was establishing the first dedicated mosque on the North Shore — there have been numerous temporary rooms used for prayer, called mussalla, in the area for years — at the former St. Richard’s Anglican Church site on 15th Street in North Vancouver.
The building was recently sold and is in the process of being converted into a mosque but not by the B.C. Muslim Association. The new tenants are another group called the North Vancouver Islamic Association.
Elesseily praised the construction work City of North Vancouver crews completed around the property before the required on-site renovations begin as the building’s interior needs a significant facelift, he says.
According to designs on North Vancouver Islamic Association’s website, the exterior will also receive a renovation to resemble a traditional mosque.
Ellesseily believes the North Vancouver Islamic community will be well-served by the new mosque, so his organization has closed its mussalla at the corner of Pemberton Avenue and 1st Street and will begin looking at a potential new location in West Van.
At first, Elesseily says, it will be another temporary location, planned for the West Vancouver Community Centre, because “that’s how we move.”
The key to determining whether or not West Vancouver, and the Squamish area he adds, requires a dedicated mosque is research and connection with the community.
“It’s a mussalla first then we look for something permanent,” he says.
“With time it comes, we always have hope. If God says it will be. Mosques are community centres that grow with the area. And we’re Canadians too, working for Canada and working for our children.”
In addition to his continuous work helping erect mosques, Elesseily, 74, is also a lifelong student. At 65, Elesseilly completed two securities courses at Simon Fraser University after a successful career as an engineer. His studies in that field took him from his native Egypt to Switzerland before eventually arriving in Canada.
Now, he’s preparing to embark on a three-month trip that will take him to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Saudi Arabia, Istanbul and finally Cairo, the Egyptian capital.
He’s been to those areas before but Elesseily says he’s excited to return and again study the cultures of other countries — a pursuit and challenge he relishes.
“At my age, I don’t know as much as I would expect I would by this point,” he says. “But my way is to investigate things my way.”