An overflow crowd gathered at Vancouver’s oldest mosque Friday night to pay tribute to the victims of Thursday’s mass shooting in New Zealand.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, along with federal defence minister and Vancouver South MP Harjit Sajjan, were among the hundreds from all faiths who flocked to Al Masjid Al Jamia, accepting an open invitation to join the Muslim community in their grief.
The terror attack claimed 49 lives in two New Zealand mosques. Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with murder in the massacre, and two other people remain in police custody.
Outside the mosque in Vancouver, where flowers were laid on the front steps, members of that community said the vigil was also meant as a show of strength and condemnation in the face of hate and tragedy.
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“You go through all these emotions after something like this — anger, fear, fear for your family — but ultimately you have to come up with some kind of resolve and purpose that you’ll use this moment for good, and that moment is starting right here,” Haroon Khan of Al Masjid Al Jamia said.
“We need to show that this kind of hate cannot stand, this hate of other people.”
The crowd included people from New Zealand who have since moved to Vancouver, and were thankful to have a place to grieve for their home country.
“I’m feeling very far from home today,” Sarah O’Dea said. “We really felt we needed to be here. It’s been a really tough day for our small country, which is usually so peaceful and safe.”
Tiferet Welch, who’s a member of the local Jewish community, said the attack in New Zealand brought fresh memories of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018 that killed 11 people.
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“It was just as it was yesterday in New Zealand, with people at prayer,” she said. “Being here is to show our solidarity with people who are grieving and afraid, and who feel they stand out and are misunderstood. We’re brothers and sisters.”
The mayor, who was joined by other members of council, said it was important for the local community to come together, and was heartened by the coming together of multiple faiths.
“Our strength here is our diversity, and we’ll always stand up when we need to,” Stewart said. “This kind of attack has no place in the world, so I’m angry about that, but I’m also filled with hope for what is here in Vancouver and what’s happening this evening.”
Inside Al Masjid Al Jamia, dozens knelt on rugs as Khan and other community leaders thanked everyone for coming and led the group in prayer.
Those who weren’t inside stood solemnly and held candles to mark the loss of life.
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Vancouver police were also on hand to provide extra security at the request of the mosque. Armed officers could be seen across the street.
Khan said the Vancouver Muslim community still feels safe despite growing fears of hate crimes.
“Every day we feel safe, but the reality is hate crimes are out there,” he said. “It’s difficult to take that someone would do that to their fellow human being, but we’re here to try and deal with that.”
All around the world, similar vigils and gatherings were held to honour the victims of the shooting and show love for the Muslim community.
Khan said everyone was welcome to Al Masjid Al Jamia and any other mosque in Vancouver at any time to show their support and love, or simply to learn.
“No one should feel any fear here,” he said. “If you’ve never been to a mosque before, it’s just a building. It has four walls, a carpet, it’s comfy, and it’s a place where we can gather and share some common purpose and peace.”
- With files from Jordan Armstrong and Simon Little