'We stand with you': Hundreds in Calgary attend New Zealand mosque shooting vigil

Some Calgary Muslims are afraid to go to their mosques Friday, while others warn each other to be careful if they attend prayer services, as the community reels in reaction to the deadly shootings at New Zealand mosques.

'It's a very sad day for everyone, for every human being under this sun'

We stand with you

3 years ago
Duration 1:07
100s attend Calgary vigil 1:07

Hundreds of people gathered in Calgary Friday evening to pay their respects to those injured and killed in a double mosque attack in New Zealand.

Calgarians flooded City Hall, holding signs and candles, and calling for change.

Rubina Mir said attending the vigil was her way of showing solidarity and love for the people who died in the attacks.  

"It's a very sad day for everyone, for every human being under this sun. I think it's very sad that we have to go through this every time," Mir said.  

"We want to let New Zealand and the people of the world know that we stand with you." 

The vigil's organizer, Saima Jamal, said it's important that people don't just attend the vigil — they need to show their intolerance of racism.
Event organizer Saima Jamal said she wants people attending the vigil to show their intolerance toward racism. (James Young/CBC)

She called on the crowd to write officials at all levels of government, demanding that they and law enforcement take right-wing radicalization seriously.

"You see social media memes that are anti-Muslim. Call them out, report them, delete them," Jamal said.

"I don't want want this to just be a prayer vigil, this is going to be a vigil with purpose."

Some Calgary Muslims were afraid to go to their mosques Friday, while others warned each other to be careful if they attend prayer services, as the community reels in reaction to the deadly shootings at New Zealand mosques.

Forty-nine people were killed and another 48 injured in shootings at two mosques filled with worshippers during Friday prayers in Christchurch, in what that country's prime minister called "one of New Zealand's darkest days."

An Australian man in his 20s was arrested and has been charged with murder. Two other suspects were in custody while police worked to determine what role they played.

Jamal says any attack on the Muslim community — no matter where in the world — feels personal.

"I was just completely devastated. I couldn't believe how much hate there was for these people going to Friday prayer. I mean I go every Friday to a mosque for prayers and this could have been any one of us."

Jamal says she's hearing from members of Calgary's Muslim community who are feeling afraid to go to mosque for Friday prayers.
Worshippers attend a memorial service at the Al Madinah Islamic Centre for the victims of the New Zealand mosque shootings. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

"People are already scared. There are people saying things like, 'Be careful when you go to the mosque today, be vigilant, pray — pray hard.' People are going to be sad, people are going to flock to the mosque," she said.

Calgary police say they are moved by the tragedy and keeping the situation top of mind, but haven't heard of any specific threats in Calgary. At this point, there is no plan to have officers patrol mosques in Calgary like forces have in some other Canadian cities.

Syed Soharwardy, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC), tweeted that his organization and Muslims Against Terrorism (MAT) strongly condemn the attacks. He called on the United Nations and all governments to declare Islamophobia a hate crime.

The Muslim Council of Calgary issued a release condemning the shootings.

"We ask the Muslim community to please be patient, be vigilant and pray for all in these testing times," the council said. "This is an attack on basic human values, and we need to stand in solidarity with all to condemn this heinous attack."

The council is holding a special Friday prayer at the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre, 2624 37th Ave. N.E.

The sermon will start at 1:30 p.m., followed by prayers at 2 p.m. At 2:15 p.m., Sheikh Jamal Hammoud will hold a press conference.

Peace activist Riyaz Khawaja, president of the Hussaini Association of Calgary, said he was at his southeast Calgary mosque when they heard about the shootings.

"It was really devastating and everybody was in pain and everyone was sad," he said. "This hate and bigotry has to be stopped."
Riyaz Khawaja, president of the Hussaini Association of Calgary, was at his mosque for an evening event on Thursday when news broke of the attacks in New Zealand. (CBC)

The Calgary Interfaith Council issued a statement condemning the attacks as "a desecration of the fundamental right to practise one's religion."

"We call upon our fellow Calgarians to raise their voices of repudiation of hatred and violence and to reach out to the Muslim community with words and acts of condolence in this distressing moment," the council said.

Province moves forward with hate crimes unit 

On Friday, Premier Rachel Notley said the province would be moving forward with establishing a new provincial hate crimes unit.

"We all know that hate exists, before the tragic, tragic event that happened in New Zealand. We must do our work well before those tragedies and acts of terror occur," Notley said.

The unit will increase the amount of specialized training Alberta police and law enforcement receive on hate crimes, a release from the province said. It will also assemble specialists to investigate hate crimes and hate groups in Alberta. 

The unit was previously recommended in a June 2018 report called Taking Action Against Racism.

Condolences and condemnation

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi tweeted: "Once again, my heart breaks. Not because I am Muslim, but because I am human. But as we condemn the horrific terrorist act in New Zealand, we also must commit ourselves to fighting hatred wherever we find it. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un. We belong to God to him we return."
Imam Zahid Abid said the deadly attacks in New Zealand do not reflect upon the greater population. (CBC)

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney tweeted: "Unthinkably evil to shoot people while they pray. An unspeakable crime not only against human life, but also the freedom of religion. Prayers for the survivors and the loved ones of those attacked."

And Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan said in a statement he was shocked and horrified by the attacks, calling them "an assault on humanity throughout the world."

Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel tweeted that the tragedy in Christchurch "reminds us that even in the most peaceful places, anger, hate and bigotry still exist. Condolences from my family and myself to all those affected by this terrible tragedy."
Hundreds of people attended a vigil Friday evening in Calgary to pay their respects to the victims of a double mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. (James Young/CBC)

Imam Zahid Abid of the Baitun Nur mosque in northeast Calgary, who expressed his condolences on behalf of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, said the attacks do not reflect the beliefs of the greater population in New Zealand, or anywhere. 

"Our sympathies are with them. Our prayers are with them," he said.

There's a lot of fear within the community here as well, especially as it is Friday," he added.

"But I think we should not be afraid. We should take a stand, be brave."