Unanimous vote approves 1st-ever mosque in Winkler, Man.
Online backlash a surprise to Manitoba Islamic Association spokesperson, who calls the city open and welcoming
The first mosque for a south-central Manitoba city has been approved after a unanimous vote by Winkler City Council.
City councillors met on Tuesday to hear from the Manitoba Islamic Association, the group behind a rezoning application for a commercial space in the community to be used as a mosque, along with anyone else interested in speaking to the issue.
Already the Muslim association has been meeting in the space they would like to rezone, a single-storey commercial building on Mountain Avenue.
"It's just a facility where they can in fact meet as a community and have their prayer sessions both for women and men separately," said Winkler mayor Martin Harder, who is in support of the mosque application.
"People who are within the community have the freedom to worship as they choose."
To start the meeting, Harder told the group of about 100 people gathered at city hall that the discussion was to be focused on zoning motion and not on religion.
While a few people brought up concerns surrounding religion anyway, the majority of people in attendance showed their support, with one woman holding up a sign that read, Vote Yes.
"Are there any guarantees that this mosque will not adopt [honour killings] or that these Shariah laws will not be put into practice in our community?" asked one man during the meeting.
"It's not just for the non-Muslim community this pertains to, probably primarily to the Muslim community, where genital mutilation is practiced under Shariah law and honour killing, as I mentioned and the list can go on and on."
Idris Elbakri, a Manitoba Islamic Association spokesperson and former president of the organization, responded to the man's comments saying the question wasn't relevant to the discussion at hand.
"I respect you ... [I hope] we have a chance to get to know each other and talk about this because sadly you're terribly misinformed," Elbakri said.
Winkler, a city home to about 12,600 people, has seen a growth spurt in recent years thanks in part to immigration and the small, burgeoning Muslim community wants an official place to worship together.
Harder estimates there are between 135 and 150 Muslims in Winkler and the surrounding communities that would gather at a central mosque in town.
"I was hoping for what actually happened tonight. A lot of people came out from Winkler and the area around Winkler expressing support for the Muslim community and the right to worship freely," said Elbakri.
"The city council and the mayor set a tone of leadership and inclusion for all citizens of Winkler."
Elbakri was surprised by several comments from people on Facebook posted prior to the meeting who opposed the mosque.
"Some of it was quite negative," he said ahead of Tuesday's meeting. "We don't think that represents Winkler or Pembina Valley in any way."
However, during the meeting Elbakri was happy to answer community members' questions about the rezoning and Islam. He invited also invited people in attendance to visit the mosque.
"If people are coming from a place where they are genuinely wanting to understand than we are more than happy to engage," he said.
'What's there to fear?'
One commenter, responding to a neutral Facebook post by former mayoral candidate Wolfgang Schaefer linking to the meeting, wrote in the thread below, "We need to put our foot down and stop appeasing to this Islam."
Others compared the religion to terrorist groups and referred to the Muslim-majority countries as a horror.
"Instead of fearing each other, let's [get] to know each other," said Elbakri in response to the comments.
"Winnipeg has eight mosques, Thompson has a mosque, what's there to fear? Muslims have been here a long time. There are global issues that are going on in other parts of the world but the Muslims that are here want to live their lives like every other Canadian."
Others on Facebook were ardent in their support for Winkler's growing Muslim community.
Ken Hiebert drove about 10 kilometres from Morden, Man., to show support to the Muslim community after seeing the negativity online. He said there isn't a lot of information about Islam in the area so people will believe false information they read online.
"People don't understand. I don't understand either but I'm willing to give people the benefit of the doubt at least. I have little bit more faith in humanity than that," he said.
"Canada is and will be much richer as a result of the people who are coming," he said.
Winkler's mayor said the city has shown it's a welcoming place for Muslims and pointed to the recent influx of Syrian refugees as an example.
"There's five families that moved into Winkler, none of them government-sponsored. It was all sponsored by a local, caring Christian community and so there's been a genuine openness and a caring atmosphere," Harder said.
Tasneem Vali came to the meeting from Winnipeg to show support to the Muslim community. She said it was encouraging to see people comfortable speaking together, even if it was concerns.
"I love that people had the freedom to speak and say what they wanted. They felt comfortable in the community to say something," she said.
"We just learn from each other so I think it went really well."
- A previous version of this story referred to Idris Elbakri as the president of the Manitoba Islamic Association. In fact, he is currently the spokesperson for the organization and its past president.Apr 25, 2017 6:30 PM CT
with files from Erin Brohman, Up to Speed and Radio Noon