Mubarik Syed, spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Saskatoon, first immigrated to Canada more than three decades ago. He says the lower cost of living and accessibility to mosques are among the reasons why more Muslims are coming to Saskatchewan. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC – image credit)
Bashar Moolla, born and raised in Regina, has watched the local Muslim population grow throughout his life.
During his childhood, the community was small enough that he and his family knew most Muslims in the city. Now, the Muslim community is so large that Moolla, a second-year University of Regina student, said he doesn’t recognize everyone anymore.
“The growth in the Muslim population here in Regina, and Saskatchewan as a whole, has been honestly something that, when my parents first came here … they would have never even imagined,” said Moolla, whose parents immigrated to Canada from South Africa more than 20 years ago.
“For us, being able to see the changes first-hand and see how the community is growing, it’s been great.”
Statistics Canada recently released another round of 2021 census of population data, part of which pertained to religious diversity. The census question about religion is asked every 10 years, even though the census occurs every five years.
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The number of Muslims living in Saskatchewan ballooned to almost 25,500 in 2021, an increase of more than 15,000 people from the roughly 10,000 Muslims who lived in the province a decade ago, data shows.
Muslim population in Sask. grew 11 fold since 2001
Muslims made up about 2.3 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population in 2021, data shows. Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec are the only provinces where Muslims made up a greater proportion of their respective populations.
The vast majority of Muslims in the province live in the Saskatoon and Regina census metropolitan areas, which have populations of 13,100 and about 10,500 respectively, data shows.
There are multiple pockets scattered throughout the province, however.
About 500 Muslims live in the Prince Albert census agglomeration, for example, which is made up of several communities including the city and rural municipality of Prince Albert, as well as the rural municipality of Buckland No. 491.
“This is wonderful. It’s great news,” said Mubarik Syed, spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Saskatoon.
Syed, who immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in the early 1990s, lived in different parts of the country before coming to Saskatoon 12 years ago.
“It’s a very exciting time. Lots of people are moving, not only from other parts of the world, but also from within Canada — the bigger centres like [the Greater Toronto Area], Vancouver, Calgary.”
How local Muslim populations in Sask. have grown since 2001
People interviewed by CBC News listed various reasons why so many Muslims are coming to Saskatchewan, from immigration policies to the lower cost of living. But the construction of more mosques plays a particular role.
A mosque, Syed explained, is sort of like a beacon. It signals a safe, accessible space where Muslims can congregate and pray, as well as hold community events and fundraisers.
Some schools now are also dedicating larger spaces — a school’s library, for example — for Muslims to pray, Moolla said.
Other things, such as accessibility to halal food, have also improved, Moolla said. Once, purchasing halal food was a task, but now it is readily available at major food retailers such as Walmart and Costco.
“People are coming here because they feel comfortable in this environment,” said Muhammad Aslam, president of the Regina chapter of the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan.
Syed and Moolla each told CBC News that they have faced instances of racism, but for the most part they feel safe to openly be who they are.
Aslam, a doctor who immigrated to Canada in 2010 before moving to Saskatchewan in 2014, has not experienced barriers to practicing his faith and culture, and living his life, he said.
Feeling comfortable is important, Aslam said, because if one is always living in a shadow of sorts, they cannot fully contribute to society.
“Every year, there are more and more people who are coming, so I’m very happy about that,” he said. “I hope that we would continue this journey of mutual benefit.”