Hamilton

As arsonist jailed, local Muslim leaders open doors, stress forgiveness

Hamilton Muslim leaders stress they were not seeking jail time for Keith Frederick, the man who deliberately set fire to a mosque last September, and hope that he "gets the help he needs to overcome his anger and hate."

'The best way to deal with those consumed by hate is to provide education and friendship': Muslim leaders

Late Wednesday night members of the public saw man set a fire at the entrance to the Ibrahim Jame Mosque, police say. (David Beatty/CBC)

Hamilton Muslim leaders stress they were not seeking jail time for Keith Frederick, the man who deliberately set fire to a mosque last September, and hope that he "gets the help he needs to overcome his anger and hate."

"We believe that if Frederick and others who may harbor enmity spent more time with their Muslim neighbours, mutual understanding and respect would develop," said the statement from the Muslim Council of Greater Hamilton, issued following Frederick's sentence on Wednesday.

"Canada would be better off." 

The best way to deal with those consumed by hate is to provide education and friendship.- Muslim Council of Greater Hamilton

The leaders are using the conclusion of the case as a time to make an appeal to the broader community to do just that — get to know their Muslim neighbours and build relationships.

The statement includes an invitation to visit local mosques and participate in some of the observances that take place during the holy month of Ramadan.

"We invite Hamiltonians to attend local Mosques during the coming month of Ramadan and take part in the iftar dinners at sunset, when Muslims break their day-long fast, so we can learn from and about one another and solidify relationships," said the statement.

Frederick was sentenced Wednesday to 25 months in jail, three years of probation and a lifetime ban on owning weapons and on possessing incendiary devices outside his home.

Physical damage from the arson was minimal but it has had a much deeper chilling effect on the community, says the council, and has hurt attendance at the mosque and deepened fears for many.

Despite that impact, and noting that "his intention was to harm and destroy," they said they would have been happy if the sentence was to provide community service at the mosque.

"While it is understandable why the court wants to send a clear message that crimes motivated by hate will be punished, the Muslim community wants to make it clear that we do not wish jail time for Frederick," the statement said.

"We believe that he has been filled with ignorance of and hatred for the Muslim community.

"The best way to deal with those consumed by hate is to provide education and friendship." 

The leaders noted his remorse and "willingness to learn" as encouraging factors.

Arson caused 'people who should feel safe in their place of worship to feel unsafe'

The arson was prevented from being more serious when Syrian refugees who live nearby saw the small fire Frederick had started, put it out and helped police catch the suspect.

In court, Crown attorney Todd Norman noted that members of Hamilton's Muslim community and members of the specific mosque attacked said the incident has left them fearful, apprehensive and anxious. Elders who wear traditional dress have been wearing different clothing. There's been a decrease in the number of attendants, and children telling their parents they "don't want to be burned alive."

The event has caused "people who should feel safe in their place of worship to feel unsafe," Norman said.​

Sayed Hasemi, who keeps the accounting records for the mosque, said after the court hearing that students who once attended the mosque's evening classes three times a week, about 60 to 80 students at a time, have completely stopped coming. That has led to a drop of about $4,000 a month in donations and book fees not being received, he said. 

And he said the mosque is installing new security measures like extra cameras and an electronic gate that will cost $20,000. It is are hoping for some government help to mitigate that cost, but it is still hefty for a small congregation.

The arson at the mosque happened 15 years after another hate crime in Hamilton, when the Hindu Samaj was burned to the ground, and there was a fire also set at the Hamilton Mountain Mosque.

At the Hindu temple press conference the day in 2013 when police announced arrests in that crime, a statement from the Hindu community extended forgiveness and a desire for reconciliation, and said the community wanted those responsible for the crime to atone for what they'd done.

"We are prepared to forgive and forget. We follow the practice of Gandhi," said Mani Subramanian, a member of the board of directors for the Hindu temple, in an interview with CBC Hamilton last spring. "We want the path of truth and reconciliation."

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca

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