Mosques open to visitors, other faiths rally to fight bigotry during Muslim Awareness Week

Coinciding with the second anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting, the week has been organized by Muslims and people of other faiths to help change the negative perception of Muslims that some Quebecers appear to have.

On 2nd anniversary of Quebec City mosque shooting, Quebecers invited to meet Muslim neighbours

Samaa Elibyari came to Canada from Egypt in 1973. She said for many years people were welcoming and curious about her faith, but after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, many started being afraid of Muslims. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

When Samaa Elibyari moved here from Egypt in 1973, she said Quebecers were friendly and welcoming.

"When they saw me they thought I came from India," said Elibyari, a member of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. "It was a kind of curiosity, welcome curiosity."

However, she said, that changed for the worse through the decades.

The president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, Samer Majzoub, says the idea behind Muslim Awareness Week is to help Quebecers move on from the brutal attack on the Quebec City mosque two years ago. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

As major political events involving Muslim factions unfolded around the world, Elibyari said she found people slowly began feeling paranoid about their Muslim neighbours.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups want Muslim Awareness Week, which runs Jan. 25 to Jan. 31, to help change the negative perception of some Canadians.

Non-Muslims are invited visit mosques, not to learn about Islam, but simply to meet people.

"The whole concept of Muslim Awareness Week is really by itself to create awareness, to fight ignorance, to fight bigotry, to create this sort of education," said Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum.

"Most importantly, it is to create this sort of interaction between the Muslim members and the Muslim community and the communities in general."

Screenings, shared meals

Among other activities are film screenings: Concordia University will show the 2012 National Film Board release, The Boxing Girls of Kabul, and at McGill, there will be a screening of the 2014 documentary about the Parti Québécois's failed charter of values, La charte des distractions.

At Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, congregants will host a vegetarian Shabbat dinner with the help of The Syrian Kitchen, a project launched by Syrian refugees, and The Wandering Chew, an local initiative meant to preserve and modernize Jewish food.

"I think that solidarity is vitally important," said the synagogue's rabbi, Lisa Grushcow.

Lachine borough Coun. Younes Boukala said growing up in Montreal, he had to tell his classmates that Muslims weren't all terrorists. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

"We as Jews know what it's like to be a misunderstood minority," she said. "Without projecting our own experience, I think it's important too to be open, to make space for voices that aren't always heard, to grow our own understanding, to show our solidarity."

Muslim Awareness Week is timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, when six men were shot to death and five others injured after evening prayers at the mosque.

Organizers say the goal is to build a better future.

To illustrate how to do that, Lachine borough Coun. Younes Boukala quoted a lesson he learned from his father as a child.

"'Always set an example,'" Boukala recalled him saying. "'Be your best self.'"


Brian Lapuz


Brian Lapuz is a journalist with CBC Montreal.