VICTORIA – A vigil to remember those killed and injured during a shooting rampage at a mosque in Quebec City heard from a religious leader Tuesday about a rise in Islamophobia and the struggle to connect rather than divide Canadians.
Ismail Mohamed-Nur, the imam at Victoria’s Al-Iman mosque, said he is heartened by the outpouring of support from Canadians since Sunday’s attack that left six dead and 19 wounded.
“We gather here today to show our defiance of hate,” said Mohamed-Nur. “Love truly conquers hate.”
Victoria Police estimated 3,000 people gathered outside of Victoria City Hall, halting traffic on a downtown street and crowding around the statue of Sir. John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, that stands at the building’s entrance.
He called for love and togetherness during a brief address to the crowd.
“We live in a time where people try so very hard to divide us, but it only brings us closer and makes us stronger,” Mohamed-Nur said. “This is a battle that is ongoing.”
Similar vigils have been held across Canada with thousands calling for unity and more understanding following the shootings.
Victoria resident Hana Al-Qadafi was in tears at the Victoria gathering, saying that seeing the crowd showed her people care about her community. She said strangers have approached her since Sunday offering their condolences.
“We are different, I know,” she said. “But we love each other. Yes, I am Muslim and I am Canadian and I love my home, Canada.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps drew cheers when she said Muslims are welcome in her city.
“We love you,” she said. “We support you. You are welcome here.”
Mohamed-Nur said Islamophobia must be confronted through open communication and education. He said Canadians should not shy away from the issue.
“Islamophobia is rising in the West and particularly here in Canada,” he said. “That is a source of worry and fear for the Muslim community.”
In Vancouver, lawyers who launched a legal assistance hotline last year for victims of Islamophobia said citizens and politicians must talk more openly about racism and xenophobia in their midst.
Hasan Alam, a community liaison for the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline, said the shootings are a “harsh reminder” of the fact that Islamophobia exists in Canada.
Alexandre Bissonnette of Quebec City faces six counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder in connection with Sunday’s shootings.