Quebec City mosque shooting anniversary leads to discussion about reconciliation

A panel discussion was the first of a number of events over four days to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting. Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. Raquel Fletcher/Global News

Monday marks one year since a gunman opened fire inside a Quebec City mosque leaving six men dead while attending evening prayers. There are four days of events leading up to a special ceremony on Monday evening. Some people in the community are using this time to address some uncomfortable questions.

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At a panel discussion on Friday morning, people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and religions honoured the lives of the men shot while praying at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre on the evening of Jan. 29, 2017.

They were also talking about reconciliation: how can Muslim and non-Muslim Quebecers live together harmoniously?

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The discussion wasn’t easy, especially with the emotions the one-year anniversary of the tragedy brings up. A debate about alt-right extremism and radical Islam left some feeling uncomfortable.

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“Personally, I’ve never met a Muslim person here that had this ideology… that’s way different than what we see here. Those are Muslim people, those are believers, yes, but the attack happened in a mosque,” said grad student Yasmina Malki.

Malki went to university with the alleged killer, Alexandre Bissonnette.

“I can’t say I’m as traumatized as the people who actually knew him. Everything that I feel is because it was our faculty. As political science, we teach openness,” Malki said.

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In the days after the fatal shooting, it was clear that the mosque — run by volunteers — would need a spokesperson. The man who stood up to represent his community is Boufeldja Benabdallah.

“I decided to pick up the baton and fight against ignorance,” Benabdallah said.

An Algerian immigrant, he’s lived in Quebec City for almost 48 years. He said it’s the first time he felt there was openness for this discussion.

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At the panel on Friday morning, where opinions diverged and sometimes risked pouring salt onto unhealed wounds, it was Benabdallah who had the last word.

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“We are all looking for happiness in this society and we are all the creators of this happiness. The proof is your presence here today,” he said.

On Friday night, a special prayer will take place at the Quebec City mosque, followed by an open house on Saturday evening and a multi-denominational event on Sunday.

On Monday evening, the premier and prime minister will attend a special outdoor ceremony at the mosque.

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