'We were both so moved': A self-described atheist on her experience visiting a mosque

Katie McWhirter from Port Coquitlam, B.C. felt for the Muslim community when she heard about the shooting in Quebec. Despite being an atheist, she visited a local mosque to learn more about the community.
People pray at a funeral service for three of the six victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting at the Quebec City convention centre on Friday. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

After the shooting in a Quebec City mosque last Sunday, several Muslim leaders across the country welcomed all non-Muslims to join services at their mosques.

Katie McWhirter, from Port Coquitlam, B.C. was one of them. She and her husband identify as atheists. But after hearing about the tragedy in Sainte-Foy, the couple were invited to attend a service by a local mosque and meet members of the Muslim community. 

McWhirter was touched by the experience, and shared her story with host Duncan McCue on Cross Country Checkup. 

As told by Katie McWhirter, below: 

Katie McWhirter from Port Coquitlam, B.C. felt for the Muslim community when she heard about the shooting in Quebec. Despite being an atheist, she visited a local mosque to learn more about the community. 3:54

"I was driving home on Thursday afternoon... and I just realized that I've driven past the mosque hundreds of times, [and never visited it.] 

I pulled in and I wanted to talk to someone and ask, "What can we do to help?" An older man and his wife saw me by the door and welcomed me in. He mentioned that there was going to be a service the next day and he said that I would be welcome to come. 

Sure enough on Friday at half past 12 p.m,  my husband and I went to that same mosque in Port Coquitlam. 

We were introduced to our MP who was there, there were a couple of local mayors, Christy Clark showed up and said a few words at one point.

I'm an atheist and so is my husband, but we were both so moved. The imam spoke in English at times and in Arabic at other times about the love that people had to show and the forgiveness that they needed to have in their hearts. It was so true and simple. 

I felt privileged to have been invited. At the end, people shook our hands and thanked us for coming. I was in tears thinking, "Why would anyone want to kill these people?" They want peace and tranquillity and to get on with their lives -- raising their children and helping the homeless like this mosque does.

I think there is middle ground if someone like me, who has never done anything like that before, and got so much out of being there, there is so much more for all of us to gain just by reaching out to people, and realizing that they're not strangers. I think that's the big fear and the big obstacle. 

It's such a simple thing to do to talk to someone and shake their hand, and acknowledge their humanity. From there I think the rest will take care of itself."

Katie McWhirter's story has been edited and condensed for clarity. You can listen to her story above. This online segment was prepared by Ayesha Barmania and Samantha Lui.