On January 29, 2017, a lone gunman entered the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City just before 8 p.m., just after evening prayers. Over the course of two minutes, they opened fire on those still worshipping or socializing after prayer, sending the congregation into a frenzy – many fled for the few areas offering cover, while others, including young children, ran around in a panic with nowhere to turn for safety. Those who did try to stop the man are among the six people killed or five others seriously injured in the heinous attack.
Four years later, on the anniversary of the tragic attacks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pronounced the date, January 29, the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia.
So why now, six years after the horrendous act of terror unfolded in the Sainte-Foy neighbourhood of Quebec City, does it remain so important to the Muslim community here in Kingston to mark this date?
“For such a long time, the Muslim community has been trying to get society to acknowledge that Islamophobia exists. We have had to hear phrases like ‘you’re being too sensitive’ to ‘It can’t be racism because Islam isn’t a race’ to ‘You’re in Canada, you don’t have to wear that here.’ We have seen our freedom of faith that we praise our nation for get crushed by provincial policies with no opposition from most. We see negative stereotypes amplified in the media, in movies, and even in the news without being questioned,” said Dr. Mona Rahman, a lifelong member of the Muslim community in Kingston and active member of the Islamic Society of Kingston.
“It took a tragedy such as this for people to open their eyes to acknowledge that Islamophobia exists, that it is real and what an impact that hateful rhetoric can have. It was this horrible tragedy that showed that words can hurt and can be powerful, especially when they are spoken by those in power, as they lead to the emboldening of those who hold these views to the point that they put those words into action, and violence. We need to mark this day to remember what happened as a result of Islamophobia and to remember how it got to this point. We need to mark the day to acknowledge that Islamophobia is real and manifests itself at different levels, some subtle but some quite tragic,” she continued.
“By marking the day, we make a promise to remember this tragedy and to never let it happen again, to make the intention to work towards combatting Islamophobia in all its forms so that no other families, no other communities, have to face such tragic losses because of hate.”
In doing so, it is important to remember those six lives lost in the senseless act of hate six years ago:
Mamadou Tanou Barry
It is also important to remember the six widows, 17 fatherless children, and all of those who suffer due to the attack at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City and other violent acts of hate and Islamophobia. As such, the Islamic Society of Kingston, Muslim Societies, Global Perspectives (MSGP) of Queen’s University, and their friends and allies participate in the Green Square Campaign in the week leading up to January 29. This is done by wearing a green square “in honour of the memory of the victims, in recognition of those who selflessly and courageously put themselves in harm’s way to protect others, and in solidarity with the survivors of this tragedy,” the two local organizations said in a press release.
For those locally, acts of Islamophobia, large or small, are not as evident as they are in other areas, Rahman explained.
“I was born and raised in Kingston and can honestly say that I have been privileged to not have had to face such hatred. After the September 11 attacks, the shooting in Quebec, the shooting in Christchurch, etc., this community has consistently demonstrated overwhelming love and support for the Muslim community. Part of that, I believe, is the involvement that the Muslim community has always had since the founding members of the Muslim community, participating in many spheres in the community,” she shared.
“Kingston knows the Muslim community, and the Muslim community is a part of Kingston.”
However, there has been a rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism on post-secondary campuses locally, particularly over the past decade, said Rahman, which resulted in the Campaign Against Hate by the Queen’s University Muslim Student Association (QUMSA).
“More recently, the Islamic Centre of Kingston was vandalized. After a wave of newcomers arrived from Syria, we heard of two young Syrian women being harassed in stores during the pandemic. A medical student was also verbally harassed walking home after a vigil for the Afzal family after they were brutally killed,” she explained.
“It is my view that, particularly after the anti-Muslim and anti-Islam rhetoric from past leaders in North America, those who may have had these views behind closed doors felt emboldened to open their doors and to make their views loud and clear.”
These examples give even more reason and importance to marking the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia, and the Islamic Society of Kingston and the MSGP host a series of events to that end.
Beyond the Green Square Campaign, on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., ‘Prayers for Peace and Remembrance for Victims of the Quebec City Mosque Attack’ will take place at the Islamic Centre of Kingston, located at 1477 Sydenham Road, where members of the interfaith community will come together to share prayers to remember the victims. Following this event, attendees are invited to travel together to Kingston City Hall, which will be illuminated in green and purple from dusk until dawn the next day, commemorating the sixth anniversary of the Quebec City attacks.
The following day, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, ‘Islamophobia in Canada,’ a panel and discussion forum, will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Room D214 of Mackintosh-Corry Hall, on Queen’s University campus. The event, hosted by MSGP, will feature Dr. Fauzia Husain (Sociology), Dr. Ariel Salzmann (History) and Dr. Adnan Husain (History/Religion), who will begin with some reflections six years after the massacre at the Quebec City Mosque, and then moderate a discussion on campus about Islamophobia. All are welcome to attend, and to share their thoughts and experiences. Light refreshments will be provided.
“Mr. Rogers once relayed that his mother taught him that when bad things happen, we need to look for the helpers. This is in line with a saying of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him), who advised us that when we see an evil, we should first stop it with our hand (i.e. do something about it). If that doesn’t work, then stop it with your tongue (i.e. speak out). If not, then hate it in your heart, but that is the weakest of faith,” Rahman imparted.
“As a community, there are too many instances of people being bystanders, those who may hate what is happening in their hearts, but they feel too weak to speak out or do anything about it. As a community, we need to do better. We need to not be satisfied with being at the weakest level, but we need to elevate our ranks and start putting into action what is in our hearts. We need to start speaking out and acting on what we say when we see someone being discriminated against or harassed,” she continued.
“When we all take a stand, we can silence the loud minority of people who feel compelled to act upon hate. We have already seen how dangerous it is to let this hate-motivated behaviour go unchecked.”
Rahman shared that a fundamental lesson in the Qur’an states that “God created us from a male and a female and made us into nations and tribes so that we may know each other.”
“At the very core, the way that we can combat any form of hate is education, by getting to know each other. We know that ignorance leads to suspicion and mistrust, which leads to hate. The most direct way to combat the hate is through getting to know each other and understanding each other’s perspectives,” she said.
“It is not necessary to agree with each other, but by getting to know each other, we can come to a point of mutual respect and understanding.”
For more information on Muslim Societies, Global Perspectives, visit their website here. For more information on the Islamic Society of Kingston, visit their website here. For more information on the Green Square Campaign, or to join the letter-writing campaign urging the government to establish a National Support Fund for Victims of Hate-Motivated Crimes, visit the Green Square Campaign website.