‘Stand together’, Imams urge as New Zealand mosque attacks shock Ottawa’s Muslim community
Ottawa resident Amira Elghawaby said she felt “weak in the knees all morning” after hearing about the deadly terror attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday.
The shootings killed 49 people, many of whom were participating in daily prayers. Forty-two other individuals continue to be treated for injuries, according to New Zealand Police.
“I have really, really been struggling to make sense of this news,” said Elghawaby, a human rights advocate and board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
“I must admit, I am quite frightened. I’m quite anxious right now.”
Elghawaby isn’t alone. Farhan Iqbal, an Imam with the Baitun Naseer mosque in the east Ottawa community of Cumberland, said the news out of New Zealand kept him up at night.
“It is very shocking and very disturbing to hear about it,” Iqbal said. “These people were just praying in the mosque.”
After incidents of violence targeting a religious community, those sorts of reactions are expected and understandable, Iqbal said. But he and other Imams in the city urged Muslim residents in Ottawa to continue to go to mosque.
“There’s always an element of fear when people hear about this kind of attack … but at the same time, some people feel it’s even more important to come to the mosque in this situation, because otherwise the hate-filled propaganda would win. And that’s not what we want,” Iqbal said.
Rather, he said, the community should treat these tragic incidents as “a wake up call for us to stand against this kind of hatred, whether it’s anti-Semitic hatred or anti-Muslim hatred or anti-Christian or any other faith.”
“I’ve been in Ottawa for a couple of years and I have a very strong feeling in Ottawa…we all stand together at times like this,” Iqbal said.
Leaders call on neighbours, friends to ‘speak up’ for Muslim community
The act of standing together extends beyond religious communities, said Luqman Ahmed, an Imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at of Canada.
Ahmed said Muslims and other religious communities in Canada “stay resilient” in the face of attacks that target them, but they still need the support of their fellow citizens in combating hate-motivated sentiments and violence.
“I believe that the larger community here in Ottawa, in Canada, throughout the world … if they see any sort of generalized statements against Muslims, I think they should speak up,” Ahmed told Global News before leading prayer at the Beaverbrook public library branch in Kanata on Friday.
Elghawaby said there is “a growing minority of people who are espousing very hateful views,” targeting Muslims, Jews, immigrants, refugees and other communities. In Canada, hate crimes are on the rise, she said.
It’s an “urgent issue” that should be top of mind for public safety authorities and residents, she argued.
While Elghawaby said it was “comforting” to hear that Ottawa police increased their presence around all the city’s mosques and other Islamic institutions on Friday, she still called on “friends and neighbours around these buildings” to contribute to their community’s safety.
“They also need to report anything suspicious that they see, because an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” she said.
Mosques stand ‘in solidarity’ with New Zealand’s Muslim community
Iqbal said his mosque stands “in solidarity” with the Muslim communities in New Zealand, and while it hasn’t yet planned an event specifically to mourn or pay tribute to the victims in Christchurch, he expects many members will have them in mind when they pray today.
Ahmed, for his part, opened prayer at the library in Ottawa’s west end on Friday with prayers for those who were killed in Christchurch while practicing their faith.
“Our Islamic faith, it teaches us to pray, to seek help by prayer and by exhibiting patience, so this is the message we give to the members of our community as well: that in times like these, we turn to God and we show patience at such incidents,” he said.
Both Iqbal and Ahmed said they witnessed an increase in attendance at mosque after similar attacks in the past, including the mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City in January 2017.
“I think that Muslims will continue to come together for prayers peacefully and I don’t think such incidents would stop them, although they are rightfully worried and should be,” Ahmed said.
– With files from Abigail Bimman