In the spirit of Ramadan, a Halifax brewery makes peace with the mosque next door

Nova Scotia

Good Robot Brewing needed more than a good fence to become a good neighbour to the mosque next door. Things soured during Ramadan, the holy time for Muslims, in 2016. But five years later, the frayed relationship has been mended, and the brewery has found a new purpose.

Mohamed Yaffa, one of the imams at the Centre for Islamic Development, left, and Joshua Counsil, a co-founder of Good Robot Brewing.(Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

On the front wall at Good Robot Brewing, one of its cheeky slogans is painted in big, upper case letters: I don't wanna grow up.

But over the last few years, the north-end Halifax brewery and beer garden has done just that — it's grown up.

However, doing that next to a mosque, a place of prayer and contemplation, has involved growing pains for a business that bills itself as Halifax's most questionable brewery.

"It's kind of become part of our mantra here in that we make mistakes a lot, learn to own up to them and learn to apologize," said Joshua Counsil, one of the brewery's co-founders.

Good Robot's rocky relations with its neighbour, the Centre for Islamic Development, which houses a private school, a community centre and a mosque, reached a boiling point in 2016.

This sign at Good Robot reminds customers to keep the noise down.(Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Amid Ramadan — Islam's season of reconciliation and forgiveness — the windows in the place of worship were boarded up and sealed to muffle the sounds from loud bar patrons.

"The two just don't go together so that was a bit of a conflict," said Mohamed Yaffa, one of two imams at the mosque about the incompatibility of a mosque, where alcohol is forbidden — — next to a bar.

Noise from a large and lively Pride dance party was the final straw.

"The music and glitter bombs and everything were just a bit too much with prayer going on next door, so that was the turning point," said Counsil.

The rowdy event led to a bylaw complaint from the Islamic centre, which wanted the brewery's liquor licence revoked. Faced with that possibility, Good Robot management met with the centre's nine directors for five hours to clear the air.

They learned the worst offences — noisy, vomiting and urinating bar patrons — had been spilling over and disrupting their Muslim neighbours.

Yaffa recalled "it was tense at the moment," and doubted there would ever be peace with both sides making legitimate but opposing arguments.

Mohamed Yaffa is one of two imams at the Centre for Islamic Development.(Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

When the centre's complaint became public, it ignited a media storm and drew a backlash of hurtful, Islamophobic and xenophobic messages.

Even though Good Robot didn't contribute to the racist trolling, Counsil said the company resolved to be better.

"Learn to swallow your pride, and put your ego at bay, and meditate on things where you have done some harm, and see what comes out of it," he said.

'Be respectful of our neighbours'

The promises made during that long meeting with the centre's directors have been maintained to this day, said Counsil.

A sign was installed reminding bar patrons "not to scream at the top of your lungs. And be respectful of our neighbours." Staff write down daily prayer times as a reminder of when the music volume is to be turned down. And a few times a day, workers circle the block to clean up any debris and garbage in the area.

"A pub is a public house, and if you aren't respectful of your neighbourhood and its surroundings, you aren't really living up to your namesake," he said.

Bar staff jot down the daily prayer times at the mosque next door as a reminder to turn down the music volume.(Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Over the last five years, Good Robot has learned to be a good neighbour.

On Instagram this week, the brewery sent good wishes to its Muslim friends at the centre as they begin Ramadan. The post detailed the fateful events of five years ago.

Counsil said that turning point helped to steer the company down a path toward equity, diversity and inclusion. The company has made efforts to hire more Black people and women in the white, male-dominated industry.

"This incident, among others, helped to really craft what it is we do and what we want to do in our neighbourhoods," said Counsil.

When the faithful gathered on Monday evening to pray and recite scripture to mark the start of Ramadan, it was completely uneventful.

They didn't hear any noise.

"I never actually thought about that. We have neighbours that we used to have clashes with before," said Yaffa. "Luckily, thank God, it calmed down."

"So, yeah, it's all good now," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

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