Muslims, Christians in Calgary mark anniversary of Quebec mosque shooting

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SHAFAQNA – Nearly one year since a mass shooting left six dead and dozens more injured in a Quebec City mosque, members of Calgary’s Muslim and Christian communities joined together for a multi-faith prayer service Sunday evening in a show of unity.

Imam Syed Soharwardy of the Al-Makkah Islamic Centre said the fallout from the Jan. 29, 2017, attack was “terrifying” for members of his weekly prayer service in Calgary, as well as Muslims across Canada.

“Nobody could imagine that this could happen in Canada,” said Soharwardy, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada and the group Muslims Against Terrorism. “We know it happened in the United States and other parts of the world, but not in Canada, especially in a sanctuary when the people are worshipping.”

Each week, Soharwardy hosts his prayer services in the Symons Valley United Church in northwest Calgary. Members of the church joined Sunday’s vigil to commemorate the anniversary of the attack.

Reverend Vicki McPhee recalled how a year earlier, members of the church baked muffins and brought tea and coffee to the first Friday prayer service following the shooting, to reaffirm to Muslim worshippers that they were welcome.

“It was heartbreaking because we know these people very well. We have a long and deep history with this prayer group, and the idea that you wouldn’t feel safe in your own house of worship . . . we can understand how fearful it must be,” McPhee said. “We get unkind letters and comments here and we stand our ground and we know who we are as a faith community. We believe very strongly that they have the right to openly practise their faith, just as we do.”

Muslim women pray during a multi-faith service held at the Symons Valley United Chursh on Sunday. DEAN PILLING / POSTMEDIA

Soharwardy said it’s important for members of all faith groups to join together in support of one another, and not bow to fear.

“There is definitely a reason for fear because there are hatemongers in society,” he said. “There are Muslim extremists and there are Islamophobes. They live in this country as well. But we believe and we know for sure that this is not a country where we should be living in fear. This is the country where peace is for everyone.”

Think for Actions, a Calgary-based non-profit organization and think-tank, will host another vigil Monday outside city hall at 7 p.m., along with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, in memory of those who died in the attack.

The group is also calling on the government to designate Jan. 29 as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia, citing the Canadian Community Engagement Study of 2018 that concluded that two-thirds of Canadians believe the atmosphere toward Muslims in Canada is negative.

Soharwardy said he hoped the first anniversary of the Quebec tragedy would remind Canadians that there is still more to be done in ensuring everyone in the country feels safe.

“It was one of the most horrifying acts in Canada. I think it’s very important for us to remember, not only just the victims but also the reasons why that tragedy took place,” he said. “Somebody committed a crime based on that he has hate in his heart, and that’s what we need to stop.”

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