With doubts being cast on a news story that a Montreal mosque asked that female workers not be visible at a nearby construction site on Fridays, those who attend the mosque say the damage has already been done.
Shahad Salman, a lawyer who has attended the Ahl-Ill Bait Mosque on de Courtrai Avenue in Côte-des-Neiges for several years, said the claims reported by TVA Nouvelles on Tuesday and the backlash are "beyond harmful."
"We're demonized," she said.
The news report, published Tuesday, originally said a clause in the contract supported the claim that two directors of two mosques on the street contacted the contractor on a construction site near the mosque and asked that female workers stay off the site on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer.
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TVA Nouvelles has since amended its online report to say the clause in the contract focused on keeping noise down on Fridays, not barring women — but its revised report does not acknowledge the changes to the story or why they were made.
The mosque has categorically denied making any request to keep women off the site on Fridays, and Quebec's construction commission looked into the allegations.
On Thursday afternoon, Quebec Labour Minister Dominique Vien confirmed that neither mosque sought to exclude women from the work site.
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But as a result of the TVA report, the community has been attacked online, and the mosque's board of directors have been bombarded by hateful messages, said Salman.
"The damage is done, especially outside of Montreal," said Salman.
Zahra Al-Mawlawi, who has been attending the Ahl-Ill Bait Mosque for more than three years, said she was disheartened and shocked when she read the claims.
She said she immediately doubted that anyone from the mosque had made such a request.
"It was really upsetting," she said. "I just felt like there's already so much backlash and hatred … and this, on top of that, OK, well, where did this come from? Out of nowhere."
The Ahl-Ill Bait Mosque has been in regular contact with Montreal police since the deadly Quebec City mosque shooting last January, said Al-Mawlawi.
Officers are stationed nearby during Friday prayers, and leaders from the mosque let police know when there is a big event coming up, she said.
"They are there to monitor and make sure everything is okay, especially after the mosque attack last year," she said.
In light of the allegations, Al-Mawlawi said she's concerned the mosque may be targeted and questions if it will still be a safe space for everyone.
"There's many different generations that attend that mosque, from the elderly all the way to infants," she said.
"And with that story out there, what if there are people who do want to do some kind of harm or graffiti? They are going to come in the area."
'One of the most open mosques'
Both women said the Ahl-Ill Bait Mosque welcomes everyone, regardless of their faith.
"They are one of the most open mosques in Montreal," said Salman. "They always get candidates and officials, and they never ask anyone, even women, to wear the hijab when they come in."
While there are separate entrances for men and women, Al-Mawlawi said the mosque is far from segregated. There are often mixed events and youth-based activities are open to both girls and boys.
She said it's hard to witness the backlash from the news report and the resulting claims that Muslims are anti-feminist or anti-women.
"I never ever felt that I was inferior to a man, whether religiously or not," she said.
"We're trying to come back and say that 'I'm a female, I'm Muslim, I go to the mosque, and I do not feel this way.'"