Until she took part in Saturday's public tour of the Prince George Islamic Centre, Lavinia Reid had no idea the most direct path to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, lies 16.5 degrees northeast of Prince George.
A flight over the polar route is the closest way around the globe for Muslims making their pilgrimage to Mecca, which explains why members of the centre, when they gather for their daily Islamic prayers, gaze out through windows that face northeast, not southeast.
Reid has never been to a Muslim country and welcomed the chance to take part in Saturday's open house at the $2 million, 650-square metre centre at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Foothills Boulevard.
"I just wanted to know more about the religion and see the facility, just to be educated and aware," said Reid. "I've never traveled to be exposed to it so this is as close as I'm going to get. I didn't know about the 16 degrees. I knew they had to face Mecca but I didn''t realize that in construction of the building they were so precise in measuring it.
"When you're in another country you make a point of going into the churches to see the architecture and understand the religion and experience it and here we basically have the same thing so I wanted to go see it."
Reid's husband Paul learned even some of the inner walls of the building are built to the 16.5-degree NE specifications so people, when they pray, will have a more direct path to Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and the city where the Qur'an was written.
"I was curious and I appreciate they opened their doors to the general public," said Paul Reid. "I think this will be a great asset to the city and it's diversification. I'm very pleased that it's here."
The centre was a busy place Saturday, as several hundred people came to find out what goes on in the city's only mosque, which opened in early October. Rod Duncan used to live in Indonesia and has several Muslim friends, and his curiosity brought him to the centre.
"It's very nice, it's a good multifunctional facility," Duncan said. "In any other mosque to you have to take your shoes before you walk in the door and here you don't have to do that until you get to the prayer area. That's how they built it, it's not just used for prayer."
The building includes a large multipurpose room two prayer rooms, an ablution room for washing, two classrooms for discussions on Islam, and a kitchen. The main prayer area can fit 200 people, while the upper prayer room is big enough for 60 worshipers, who use the two-toned carpet to align themselves as they face the iman who leads the prayers. Because there are so many different ethnic backgrounds among the members, all of the discussion group teachings of the Qur'an are in English.
"I hope the open house will help people get to know us because I think people in the area had a lot of apprehension and didn't know what the mosque would be like or what impact it would have on the surrounding area," said Irum Mahmood, who volunteered as a tour guide. "I think after people come to see the mosque they will see we want to blend in to the community and that it's open to everybody."
The centre is also being used for social and recreational purposes, much like a community centre, and it provides guidance, counseling and support to its members. As money becomes available for expansion, plans call for a construction of a library, day care centre and gymnasium.
"We are very happy that the people of Prince George have joined here us today," said Firas Mansour, the centre's project co-ordinator, whose slideshow presentation explained the five pillars of Islam. "We are seeing many friends and many neighbours and I am glad they enjoyed the day here."