Ottawa Citizen: Friday prayers a time of mourning for Ottawa Muslim community

Story: Bruce Deachman
Photo: Julie Oliver

When Abdel Felfel told his daughter, Rahmah, that he was going to prayer at the Ottawa Mosque on Friday, the nine-year-old, with thoughts of New Zealand’s mosque shootings fresh in her mind, became very concerned for her father’s safety.

He told her not to worry and assured her that Canada was a much better place

and that what happened in Christchurch couldn’t happen here. But Felfel, a trustee of the Ottawa Muslim Association, wasn’t convinced that what he told her was true.

“I have doubts about that,” he admitted before Friday’s 1 p.m. prayer. “These attackers are not too many, but they are sleeping wolves and you never know when they will attack. The threat is there, and it’s real.”

Felfel’s concerns were echoed by other members of Ottawa’s Muslim community attending prayer Friday.

“As details (of the New Zealand shootings) became clear this morning, the first reaction is of feeling very unsafe as a Muslim,” Shahad Khalladi said, “especially considering that Canadian Muslims today are going to Friday prayers, and that means going to a space where they might not feel safe.”

She added that she expected Friday’s prayers to be heavily marked with sadness and mourning at mosques across the country.

Association trustee Charles Ghadban said the community was saddened and shocked that Friday’s shootings occurred in a place of prayer and worship. Canadian Muslims, he noted, are still recovering from the aftermath of the shooting two years ago at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City. “We’re deeply disturbed that today’s terrorist act in New Zealand was actually inspired by the Quebec City shooting.

“Our children,” he added, “are emotionally distraught and afraid to return to school after the March break. It’s extremely difficult to explain to them what has happened and why.”

Ghadban urged Canada’s politicians and leaders to denounce Islamophobia and to take steps to ensure that the nation’s Muslim community was safe from threats.

Ottawa Muslim Association board member Monia Mazigh said they were considering increasing security at their mosques. “Today it’s in New Zealand, but two years ago it was in Quebec City. Who knows, God forbid, what would be the next place?”

Some mosques, she said, already used entry fobs and passwords to gain access. “(But) it is ridiculous, in a way, because these are sanctuaries.”

Outside the mosque, a few dozen non-Muslims showed up Friday in a show of support, some of them neighbours prompted by social media calls from Ottawa councillor Jeff Leiper and Parkdale United Church pastor Reverend Anthony Bailey. Ottawa councillor Catherine McKenney, Ottawa-Centre MP Catherine McKenna and Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau were also on hand to lend their support.

Three police cruisers were outside the mosque in an effort to beef up security, but Bordeleau insisted there was no heightened threat identified in Ottawa. “We know it certainly puts communities uneasy when tragedies like these occur across the world.”

Rev. Bailey said he came to the mosque “to stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters and to say that this is absolutely unacceptable.

“You attacked one people, one religion, you attacked all of us.”

Meanwhile, two young sisters, Quinn and Marilla Matthews, 11 and 6 respectively, stood on the sidewalk outside, each holding a handmade sign bearing a simple heart. “The heart,” Quinn said, “says we will support.”

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