The days following the deliberate arson attack on Peterborough’s only mosque, Masjid Al-Salaam, were chaotic ones. The Muslim community and Kawartha Muslim Religious Association President Kenzu Abdella were overwhelmed with national press streaming into Peterborough, as well as ongoing police investigations.
From the ashes and havoc rose a defiant phoenix that said loud and clear, “Terror and hate will not be tolerated here.”
This is not to deny the problems that Peterborough has faced over the years regarding bigotry and hate crimes, but it is crucial to shine light on the fact this tragic incident brought the best of the community together in order to heal and move forward.
With $80,000 in damages and a population of almost 800 Muslims left without a mosque to pray in, the initial situation seemed dire.
Muslims all over the globe are dealing with the unjust consequences of the recent Paris attacks by terror group ISIL.
Some of these consequences are hitting dangerously close to home. Muslim women are brutally being attacked, Sikh temples are getting vandalized, and racist graffiti is popping up everywhere. In light of the attack on Al-Salaam, it is difficult for Muslims in Peterborough and the Kawarthas to feel safe, accepted, and optimistic within this atmosphere.
The effort of the Peterborough Community to provide support has done wonders to comfort Muslims in Peterborough, and to thwart some of this uneasiness caused by this despicable hate crime.
Arthur spoke to Dr. Abdella regarding the attacks.
“We want people to understand how difficult it is to have a situation like this…We have received a lot of support,” stated Dr. Adbella.
“One of the immediate consequence of the incident is that the space is not available for prayer. Most of us pray 5 times a day…to not have the mosque available makes it very difficult.”
These were the concerns weighing heavy on Peterborough’s Muslim community after the Al-Salaam attack.
“We have been offered spaces in some churches. The support is very encouraging.” Dr. Abdella revealed.
This violent act of terror, that could very easily have been deadly, backfired on the cowardly assailant(s). Instead of inciting a divisive gap between Muslims and the rest of Peterborough’s community, the relationship has strengthened.
A fundraiser, kick-started just hours after the fire, raised $30,000 more than the original goal of $80,000 before it was halted. Shortly after the incident, Larry Gillman, President of the Beth Israel Synagogue in Peterborough released a strong statement.
“There is no room for the hate of whomever committed this cowardly act at the Mosque….both the Unitarian and Jewish congregations have invited the Mosque to share space at Beth Israel while repairs are ongoing. The Peterborough Jewish Community stands united with the Muslim community.”
Trent University students immediately took to action in response to this attack.
Alaine Spiwak, President of the Trent Central Student Association explained how the TCSA and TMSA got involved.
“After speaking with TMSA president, Muhammad Arif Khan, we decided we wanted to do something to show our support. Under the guidance of the TMSA, it was decided to organize an event where we would stand in solidarity during the first Friday prayer since the fire, at the Marks United Church.”
Thus, on Friday November 20th, the Trent Muslim Student Association and the Trent Central Student Association co-hosted an event called “Stand in Solidarity” at the Mark United Church. Trent alumni, professors, and the general Peterborough community was invited to stand in solidarity with Muslims as they partook in their Friday prayers.
In Islam, Jummah (Friday prayers) are a congregational prayer that Muslims hold around noontime. It is a sacred day in Islam.
In this congregational fashion, Peterborough locals of every creed and background gathered in the same space to promote peace.
Large cloth banners reading ‘TCSA supports our Muslims students’ and ‘In solidarity with Peterborough’s Muslim community’ were made to display at the event.
In attendance were notable figures, including Mayor Daryl Bennett and Dave Nichols of the National Democratic Party in Peterborough. The consuls general from Turkey, Pakistan and France were all in attendance.
Mr. Marc Trouyet, Consul General of France, spoke on behalf of the French. He condemned the attack on Al-Salaam, and stressed that the French are very aware that Muslims and those actually responsible for the deadly attack in Paris have nothing to do with each other.
Trouyet iterated the efforts of the French government to ally themselves with Muslims in the country, and ensure that they are being protected against such hate crimes.
Arthur spoke to Mr. Erdeniz Sen, Consul General of the Republic of Turkey.
“We are here together with some members of the Turkish community here, in order to show our solidarity, support, and sympathy with the people of Peterborough. The attacks in Paris and before that, in Ankara, do not reflect any religion, nationality, or race. This attack [on Al-Salaam] does not represent Canada.”
Mr. Erdeniz Sen gave a short speech to the crowded room in Mark St. United Church, as did the other Consul Generals.
Pakistani Consul General Mr. Asghar Ali Golo told Arthur, “I’m delighted to be here. Muslims offering prayers in a church is something that is very difficult to see in other parts of the world. I must praise the leadership and community here, as they have utilized this adversity to create opportunity. Peterborough is an example that should be followed by the rest of the cities in Canada.”
Also in the room was York-South Weston lawyer and Liberal MP Ahmed Hussen.
Mr. Hussen expressed his solidarity, telling Arthur, “What I have witnessed here today is the community’s resilience after the burning of the mosque. It’s really encouraging to see the Friday service for the Muslim community being held at the United Church, and the regular services being held at the local synagogue. It is a very good answer to those who seek to divide us.”
The TCSA and TMSA were overjoyed with the community turnout. People stood outside, crowded the floor of the church hall and lined the walls. Guests were welcome to stay and participate in the Friday prayer, or sit quietly and witness as Muslims joined together in their prayer. It was a true display of peace and unity.
A reception with refreshments and a chance to mingle and socialize was held after the prayer.
Reflecting, Spiwak told Arthur:
“Moving forward we would like to continue working with the TMSA and Trent to do some educational events about Islam. It is important to continue condemning Islamophobia even when the mosque is rebuilt, as racism will still exist. Racism is not something that disappears and reappears when acts of violence like this happen, it’s something Muslim students unfortunately have to live with every single day.”