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Little mosque in the Northwest Territories opens

The most northerly mosque in North America has officially opened, marking an end to an arduous journey for the building of 4,500 kilometres over narrow, bumpy roads and atop a river barge.

Disaster was averted a few times, including when the prefabricated building almost tipped over while on a bridge.

"What a relief," Hussain Guisti, the man who organized the project, said on Wednesday. "It really worked. Wow."

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Inuvik, a town of 3,300 people north of the Arctic Circle, has some 80 Muslim residents who, until recently, have met for prayers and religious education inside a small trailer. Mr. Guisti, a member of a Winnipeg-based Muslim charity called The Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, decided last year he would help design and build a mosque for the northern community.

Mosques are more than just a place to pray.

"It's where we pray five times a day, where we socialize, where we hold weddings, where we hold religious schooling for the kids," he said. "A mosque is at the centre of daily life."

The group had wanted to build the mosque in Inuvik, but soon realized a prefabricated building constructed in Winnipeg would be much less expensive, even with the lengthy shipment factored in.

Getting the oversized load through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories was a bigger challenge than the group imagined. There were narrow bridges and highways under construction, as well as transport regulations on when and where the building could travel.

When the truck arrived in Edmonton on Labour Day weekend, it was stalled as the drivers were told oversized loads were not allowed on Alberta highways on Sundays and holidays. Mr. Guisti began to fret, as he was trying to get it to Hay River, NWT, before the last barge of the year departed down the Mackenzie River for Inuvik.

The obstacles didn't end there. After crossing the Alberta-NWT boundary, the truck came to a narrow bridge undergoing repairs. As the driver tried gingerly to drive across the bridge, the mosque started tipping to the right.

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"It almost tipped over. Everyone moved into the mosque quickly and moved all the construction materials that were in the mosque to the other side ... then it started tipping to the other side," Mr. Guisti recalls.

"Luckily, the same construction crew who were there, who were building the bridge, they brought their backhoes, they tied (it) to their chains and ... the mosque did go through."

The mosque is believed to be the second most-northerly one in the world, next to one in Siberia.

It is a welcome addition to Inuvik. Mayor Denny Rodgers said there is no sign of the type of animosity encountered by new mosques in some parts of the United States.

"We're very much a multicultural town up here," he said. "Canada itself is a melting pot, and Inuvik, when you look at all the different cultures that are represented here, is just like that.

"The Muslim community is a very inclusive community. They're reaching out and they want the community to come see their new mosque. They want to share their excitement with us, and that's great."

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There were only a handful of Muslims in the town 20 years ago, according to Mr. Guisti. Like many northern communities, Inuvik has a near-constant supply of job opportunities that has attracted people from all backgrounds.

"Muslims who are here tell their friends and relatives 'come on over, there are jobs here'," he said.

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