'You can't isolate yourself': Hamilton Muslims open doors to mosque visitors

In conjunction with other mosques around the country, Hamilton Muslims opened the doors to the Mountain mosque on Sunday to show visitors around, answer questions and try to prove "we're not the boogeyman."

'Visit My Mosque' event hopes to bring visitors and Muslim community closer

Zainab Barak paints henna on the hand of Kate Bogle, a visitor to Hamilton's Mountain Mosque for the "Visit My Mosque" open house on Sunday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

There were tours, games, snacks, facepaint and a photo booth – features of a Sunday afternoon spent at just about any community event.

And the Hamilton Muslims who organized this weekend's "Visit My Mosque" event hoped it would bring them one step closer to being perceived as just that — your neighbours who happen to be Muslim. 

They opened the doors to the Mountain Mosque on Sunday afternoon. The mosque can hold 3,000 people for prayers, a peak they often hit more than once in the same day on holidays like Eid.

Sarah Shaikh helps Gloria Weir put on a headscarf before getting her photo taken with Jack White at a photo booth. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

"We're not the boogeyman," said Kamran Bhatti, who's on the board of the Muslim Association of Hamilton. "We are the doctors and lawyers and city workers and engineers."

This despite the fact that Islam is "constantly associated in popular culture with a minority radical element," Bhatti said. Local Muslim leaders say for the most part, people in Hamilton appear to "actually get it" and are friendly.

But the fight against perception is always ongoing. 

Gloria Weir and Jack White donned accessories for a photo booth at the Mountain Mosque. (Kelly Bennett)

Bhatti was in line in a McDonald's drive-thru a few days ago when the driver of the car behind him grew impatient with how long his order was taking.

He yelled anti-immigrant slurs at Bhatti, suggesting he "go back" to where he came from. Bhatti was born and raised in Hamilton.

Fatma Abdul Razaq paints a cat on the face of Sumyya, 7, at the open house on Sunday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Fatma Abdul Razaq was painting faces Sunday, and she said she hoped events will help "break down walls."

Abdul Razaq wears a hijab and a niqab and said even though she smiles with her eyes when she meets strangers, she sees looks of hesitation, or worse. Since Trump was elected in the United States, she's perceived more "bad vibes and weird looks."

"It's hard to have meaningful conversations at the grocery store, even though I try," she said. 

Zainab Barak painted henna on the hand of Christina Paradela, a United Church of Canada minister who attended Sunday's event. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
Kate Bogle sat at a station to have Zainab Barak paint with henna on her hand. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Abdul Razaq grew up in the U.S. and said for the most part, Canada is a "breath of fresh air." But she sees a need to continue getting a message of peace and openness out. 

"The way we're portrayed (in popular culture), I feel like we need to make that extra effort," she said. 

Many of the people who walk through the doors at an event like this weekend's, or Doors Open Hamilton, have not been inside a mosque before, said Javid Mirza, president of the Muslim association.

Hamilton's Mountain Mosque was open Sunday for a "Visit My Mosque" open house. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

He said once they come inside, he hopes visitors see values in common. 

"Peace, justice, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry — that's a human thing," he said. "After 9/11, I realized, you can't isolate yourself." 

About the Author

Kelly Bennett

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Kelly Bennett is an award-winning reporter who lives in Hamilton. She grew up in Victoria and covered economics and arts as an investigative reporter in San Diego. She loves digging into great stories, hiking and playing the violin. Drop her a line anytime at kelly.bennett@cbc.ca.