Muslims in Waterloo region feel safe, but still have safety concerns

An attack on a mosque in Quebec City Sunday night sent shock waves through Muslims in Waterloo region. While those CBC K-W spoke with said they feel safe in this area, there are still concerns something similar could happen here.

'Nobody in Quebec City would have thought that this would have happened there'

Rania Lawendy is the spokeswoman for the Waterloo chapter of the Muslim Association of Canada. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

It happened in another place, a different city far removed from Waterloo region. 

But Muslims still worry an attack like the one at a Quebec City mosque Sunday night could happen here.

"You definitely think this could happen to us. What's the difference? Nobody in Quebec City would have thought that this would have happened there," Rania Lawendy, the spokeswoman for the Waterloo chapter of the Muslim Association of Canada and the principal at Maple Grove School, told CBC News Monday.

"For sure that's run through people's minds."

Omar Alshehri, the Imam at the Stratford Mosque, agreed. He has seen hateful rhetoric on the mosque's social media accounts as well as in emails sent directly to them.

He said where before things seemed to bubble under the surface, now people are speaking out against Muslims.

"What went through my mind was worrying about the same scenario happening in Stratford," he said.

"All the elements are there. Islamophobia is real and it cannot be more real than this time."

The reasons for the attack in Quebec City, which as of Monday afternoon had left six men dead and 19 wounded, are still unknown.

Community shows support

But while there are concerns a similar attack on Muslims could occur anywhere, both said they have received an overwhelming amount of support from the community through emails, phone calls and social media posts, as well as vigils planned for Monday evening.

"Everyone is showing support," Alshehri said. "We're feeling very grateful for that and we're feeling very safe."

Mohammad Darr, vice chairman of the board overseeing the International School of Cambridge, said a worker who was at the school Monday to check fire extinguishers gave the the school a donation to help sponsor Syrian refugees.

"I'm writing to express sympathy and support after the tragic loss of life in the mosque in Quebec City this weekend," wrote the man, who identified himself as a Christian. "Best wishes in struggle so that all of us can work together to overcome such a tragic obstacle to peace and harmony."

Darr said in 31 years, the school has never had so much as a broken window attributed to anti-Muslim sentiment.

As students arrived for class on Monday, he said they were "saddened and shocked." Some had questions and the teachers did what they could to help them understand the tragedy.

"[The teachers] explained to them that this is an isolated incident," he said. "We don't expect these kinds of events in our country."

Places of worship, should be a safe haven...- Rania Lawendy

For Lawendy, the attack Sunday night hit close to home. She knew people who had been in the mosque when the gunfire started. A man she knew, who was teaching children at the mosque, was shot in the shoulder. He is recovering.

"I couldn't believe that in Canada, someone would walk into a mosque and shoot six people," she said of hearing the news. "Mosques, or places of worship, should be a safe haven, a safe space, where people can go worship and not be worried about losing their life."

She said she and other Muslims are praying it won't happen again.

But along with prayers, there is a need for outreach to people who do not understand Islam or what it means to be Muslim.

"As more Canadians interact with Muslims, they're going to realize they're just like everyone else," she said.

Hear Rania Lawendy's interview Tuesday on The Morning Edition: