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A year after being firebombed, Peterborough Muslim community offers advice to Quebec City

Posted: February 06, 2017
Last Updated: March 10, 2017

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One year after their mosque was firebombed the Peterborough Muslim community reacts to the Quebec mosque shooting.  2:01

When Magdy Kamar heard the news of the attack at a mosque in Quebec City, he flashbacked to November 14, 2015, when his mosque in Peterborough, Ont. was set aflame. 

It was the day after a terrorist attack in Paris, France. An arsonist, or possibly several, broke a window of his mosque and used an accelerant to set the building on fire.

The incident shook the city, and while the fire devastated the Muslim community, many found strength and hope in the outpouring of support from the larger community. After the Quebec City shooting, memories of this fire in Peterborough are rekindled.

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Cross Country Checkup visited the Masjid Al-Salaam mosque this weekend to check in with two members of the Muslim community in Peterborough, and ask them the question of this week's program: How do you recover from the fear and hate created by the Quebec mosque attack?

Usama Zahid, right, removes the Qu'ran and other books from shelves on Sunday. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

After the attack, the inside of the mosque was burned black. The walls, floor and the ceiling had all been scorched by the fire. In one place, a wall had disintegrated. 

Kamar, President of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association (KMRA), said, "There was nothing left here, just bare bones."

Fortunately, no one was in the Masjid Al-Salaam during the attack, and no one was harmed. But the mosque had only recently been vacated following a celebration for a new baby born to a member of the mosque. Kamar said, "We are lucky no one was hurt."

Congregation members clean up after the only mosque in Peterborough, Ont., was deliberately set alight in November, 2015. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

For several weeks, members of the mosque conducted their prayers at local churches and at the synagogue. Members of other faith groups in the city came together to offer their spaces and other resources for them.

"The hate that somebody wanted to evoke in us completely backfired due to the response our community gave," said Shegufa Merchant, a member of the Muslim community and an organizer with The Abraham Festival, a local event series that hosts open dialogues and talks about religion.

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A city resident not affiliated with the mosque started an online fundraiser and Canadians beyond Peterborough as well as international donors opened their hearts and their wallets. Over $100,000 was raised. And while the KMRA had insurance to cover the repairs, they were moved by the generosity. Kamar said all of the money that was not used to repair the mosque was donated to local charities.

Congregation members clean up debris on Sunday after the only mosque in Peterborough, Ont., was deliberately set alight Saturday night. The blaze caused $80,000 in damage. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Merchant said, "It was so humbling, so touching, so moving to be part of the Muslim community in Peterborough."

She felt similarly this week after the shooting in Quebec City. She described the response in Peterborough after last week's attack as overwhelming and moving. More than the fear and hate, the solidarity and support stand out stronger.

Even in Peterborough — over 700 km from Quebec City — people have sent flowers and notes of condolences to this little mosque. 

In the year since the attack, Merchant told us there has been an immense movement to take in Syrian refugee families. Partly as a result, the mosque membership has grown by about 50 new families. They are outgrowing their place of worship, and now the Peterborough Examiner reports that they are fundraising for a new addition to the building.

Kamar said, "Fanatics are trying to shake the unity and solidarity of our strong nation." But from his perspective, those fanatics are not succeeding.

This video and online segment was produced by Ayesha Barmania and Duncan McCue, on February 5, 2017.