Vandalized Calgary mosque opens doors to questions in the community

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WATCH ABOVE: It was a chance for Calgarians to learn more about Islam at a time when the religion has been in the spotlight during the U.S. election campaign. Saturday, an open house was held at mosque in Ranchlands that was recently vandalized. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, plenty of very frank questions were addressed – Nov 13, 2016

An open house was held at the Ranchlands mosque in northwest Calgary on Sunday.

The “Our House is Your House” event was organized to foster engagement between community members and mosque-goers, to encourage a better understanding of the space, the people and the religion.

“We want everyone to feel welcome; to come and see and understand more about Islam and about who Muslims are, engage in open dialogue.” Mansour Shouman, Muslim council of Calgary director, said.

Guests at the open house were welcomed outside the mosque door by volunteers and inside, with aromatic foods representing over a dozen countries.

Mike Shonfield drove all the way from Woodbine to check out the event. He asked people inside ‘why don’t Muslims speak out more when there is a terrorist attack?’

“What I’m hearing is that they do,” Shonfield said. “They are screaming and yelling and denouncing it. But they say it’s not picked up by the media because there are too many other things happening at the time.”

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The recent episodes of vandalism at the Ranchlands and Queenslands mosques mean it’s even more important to open the doors, according to the Islamic Association of NW Calgary.

“Of course we were a little bit sad,” Shouman said of the vandalism that occurred in October. “We don’t think this represents in any way a significant portion of the different people that reside in Calgary. We are trying to keep a positive image out.  We want to engage everyone with open dialogue and conversation and to answer any questions or dispel any  misconceptions about Islam or Muslims in general.”

A question and answer session addressed a wide range of topics.  Mike Kosmak attended because he was curious about the mosque and wanted to know more about things like why women wear the hijab. The event gave him a chance to speak with members of the Muslim community directly.

“I was very pleasantly surprised. I talked to several Muslim women about their lives and their experiences here in Canada, dressing the way they are,” Kosmak said.

“I was very pleased with that. With all of them to whom I talked to said they feel so good. That they don’t feel they are being discriminated against.  I talked to younger women and they said that is their choice. Their choice from what beliefs they have and they don’t wear it at home,” Kosmak said.

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Non-Muslims who attended the event said they left with not only their hunger satisfied, but their inquiries too.

“The people themselves are very friendly. It’s unfortunate that a few spoil it. But I guess that happens in any religion,” Shonfield said.  “The open house was very good. They took an awful lot of time taking me around to each of the stalls. I got to try the different foods. It was excellent.”

Boja Kosmak was thankful to the volunteers who put the event together.

“All of us are the same. We just might look different. Or wear different clothes. I think this open house is great. I think there should be more of them,” Kosmak said.

“I felt very badly when I heard that about some violence against this centre and I think if you learn more about Muslim people, or any minority and become more tolerant, I think that’s what’s is required,” Kosmak said.

In a statement from the Muslim Council of Calgary, members also address the U.S election.

“With the recent turn of events south of the border, questions are being raised regarding the future of diverse communities in America. The ripple effects of attitudes towards Muslims in America are felt by Muslim communities all around Canada, who recognize the challenges that can come with antagonizing sentiments. While such circumstances might seem discouraging, the Islamic Association of NW Calgary strongly believes in viewing them as opportunities to educate and connect with the wider community,” the Muslim Council of Calgary stated.