For Canadian Muslims this past weekend 'has felt like a year'

Bigotry doesn't follow borders, say two young community activists, and even though Canadians are being reminded by their political leaders that Canada is an open, diverse place, they say Islamophobia clearly needs to be addressed here.

Quebec mosque shooting, U.S. travel ban has community reeling

Community activist Safiah Chowdhury says recent disturbing events, the U.S. travel ban and Quebec City mosque attack, have left her as a Muslim feeling unsettled. (CBC)

In the wake of a U.S. travel ban and an attack at a Quebec City mosque, Canada is being painted by political leaders as an open, diverse place, but two community activists say hostility towards Muslims is a real problem here that needs to be addressed.

Bigotry doesn't follow borders, the Toronto activists say.

And the speed of recent events — the American ban that caused chaos at airports and the Quebec shooting the left six dead — has left them unsettled. 

Safiah Chowdhury, an activist who has worked with Muslim Youth of North America, and Rania El Mugammar, a director of a group called SpeakSudan, said they think Muslim communities in Toronto need time to think about the travel ban and mosque attack and figure out what to do next. 

"This weekend has felt like a year. I actually can't believe how much stuff happened in the last 48 or 72 hours," Chowdhury told Metro Morning. "When I do realize that it's only actually been a couple of days, I'm astounded that this is just the beginning."

A handful of vigils were held in Toronto on Monday night to honour the victims of the mosque attack. One was at the University of Toronto, another was held in the Coxwell Avenue and Gerrard Street area.

The second involved a walk through the Indian Bazaar to the Faith Mosque. The ban was issued Friday, a week after the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, while the attack was Sunday night.

Vigil used for political purposes

Chowdhury went to a vigil last night at the Islamic Institute of Toronto in Scarborough.

"It was unusual, I would have to say, that we were all gathered there. I went assuming that it would be a gathering of prayer and solemn reminders of the sacred space that we were in and the need to maintain and preserve that sacred space," she said.

Crowds gathered in Toronto to show their support for the victims of the Quebec City mosque. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

"But I think sometimes the situation lends itself to strange reactions and the event was a lot of reaffirmation of Canada as an open space, open country, which was an unusual reminder.

"It speaks to this tension of needing to reaffirm Canada as a safe place but also of simply being Muslim and allowing ourselves to just be."

Chowdhury, who described herself as a child of the post 9/11 world, said she is a political activist but also a religious person and there is a need right now to reflect quietly on current events. She said she spent a lot of Saturday "spontaneous weeping," only to find out about the mosque attack on Sunday.

Rania El Mugammar is the director SpeakSudan and says she thinks Muslim communities in Toronto need time to think about the travel ban and mosque attack, to figure out what to do next. (Submitted: Rania El Mugammar)

El Mugammar, a Sudanese-Canadian, said the travel ban made her think first of family and friends who are directly affected before considering its larger implications.

The mosque attack made her realize that she was going to spend this week doing a lot of community work and checking on people who probably no longer feel safe.

"I haven't a had a moment to process it," she said.

She said she feels she has been exposed to a lot of Islamophobia by people who are saying about the travel ban: "Yeah, it's awful but ..."

She said she has been told: "We really have to think about national security."

El Mugammar said Canadians need to be careful about painting Canada as an "non-Islamophobic nation" because many Muslims across the country have been exposed much bigotry and discrimination.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the killings in the mosque were a "terroristic attack" and the people killed were "innocents targeted for practising their faith." He said it was an attack on Canadian values of "openness, diversity and freedom of religion."

With files from Metro Morning