New Brunswick

'No place is safe': Muslims in Fredericton react to New Zealand attacks

Azhar Mushtaq received a phone call Friday from his parents in Kashmir, demanding he stay away from the mosque in Fredericton after dozens of people were killed and injured at two mosques on the other side of the world.

49 people were killed and another 48 injured in attacks at 2 Christchurch mosques

Azhar Mushtaq says he was shocked and saddened by Friday's attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Azhar Mushtaq received a phone call Friday from his parents in Kashmir, demanding he stay away from the mosque in Fredericton after dozens of people were killed and injured at two mosques on the other side of the world.

But the 25-year-old couldn't stay away.

"Banning the mosque is not the solution," said Mushtaq, who is studying at the University of New Brunswick. "I can't just sit at home.

"I trust in Canada and I believe in this country."

Forty-nine people were killed and another 48 injured in attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, filled with worshippers, in what New Zealand's prime minister called one of the country's "darkest days."

"Islamophobia, it's spreading at an alarming rate, not just New Zealand, all over the world," Mushtaq said.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, multiple cars lined up outside the mosque in Fredericton as people arrived for prayers.

Mohamed El-Bayoumi, a longtime resident, was preparing to calm and reassure fellow Muslims newer to the city about their new home.

We should be able to live together.- Mohamed   El-Bayoumi

"Don't give in, don't change your life simply because someone else did something so stupid and so hurtful," he said.

UNB student Muzzamil Wani said that when he first heard about the attacks, he immediately called his brother, who is studying in Auckland, more than 1,000 kilometres north of Christchurch.

"The first thing I did was message him and say, 'Are you OK?,'" Wani said at the mosque on Lincoln Road. 

Muzzamil Wani's brother is studying in New Zealand. When he found out about the attacks, he immediately called him to make sure he was safe. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

He called the event "a massacre," but the shock he felt didn't keep him away from Friday prayers. 

"Today we have prayers, so we'll pray for them and the ones who died," he said.

'We've got to pray'

Hanan Miraj, who was also at the mosque, was shocked by the attacks because prayer is a time when people come together and are at peace.

"I have no words," he said. "I was speechless and couldn't say anything."

Hanan Miraj admits he was worried about praying at the Fredericton mosque Friday after the attacks in New Zealand, but wanted to be there to pray for the people of Christchurch. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Miraj, 25, admitted he was worried about coming to the mosque Friday but feels no place is ever truly safe.

"No place is safe on this Earth, but we've got to pray," he said.

He said it's important people, including Christian and Muslim communities, come together against terrorism. 

Helping people understand 

When El-Bayoumi turned on the radio Friday morning, he was overwhelmed by shock and sadness.

"I'm still really trying to comprehend, 'What the heck happened here?' And why these people, and why that far away?" said El-Bayoumi, one of the founders of the Fredericton Islamic Association.

Mohamed El-Bayoumi, one of the founders of the Fredericton Islamic Association, says he plans to spend the next few days calming the nerves of people in the Muslim community.

As someone who moved from Egypt to Fredericton more than 40 years ago, he knows he has a job to do.

He will be spending the next few days trying to calm the nerves of people in the Muslim community, particularly the large number of newcomers who will be questioning their safety.

"With the new arrival of the newcomers, who came to Canada for safety, and then they hear stuff like this," he said. "We will certainly try to calm everybody."

He said closing the old building that's used as a mosque is not an option. Instead, he's encouraging the Muslim community to stand together in faith and will. 

Keeping a positive attitude 

Every day, he said, dozens of people visit the mosque for prayer, and many are newcomers. On Fridays, there can be more than 200 people who come to pray.

"It will be our role to say, 'No, don't let stuff like this change your attitude,'" El-Bayoumi said. "We're really going to have our work cut out for us over the next few days."

Police in Quebec City, which endured a mosque attack two years ago that killed six people, and police in Montreal, Gatineau, Que., and Ottawa have all confirmed heightened security near mosques Friday.

El-Bayoumi was still trying to wrap his head around the New Zealand attacks but said he'd seen overwhelming support from people in Fredericton.

"We should be able to live together," he said. 

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