An attack backfires: how a mosque bombing brought Peterborough together

Jeff Goodes looks at how citizens of Peterborough, Ontario reacted to the fire-bombing of the city's only mosque.

When Kenzu Abdella heard that there had been a fire at the Al-Salaam Mosque in Peterborough, his first thought was that someone must have left the stove on. "Before the fire, we had a community gathering… I honestly assumed somebody left something on… I came here. There was police, a fire truck. The smoke was going everywhere."

Someone had thrown a homemade fire bomb through one of the windows causing $80,000 in damage.

"We always found it funny because the door was actually open. We never had to lock the doors. Security was no issue for us."

When it finally sunk in that the mosque had been targeted, Abdella, the head of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association, was shocked and scared. The crime forced him to question his trust of the community that had been his long-time home.

Next morning, I got calls from people, 'could the kids go to school?' It was like, maybe we don't know the community as well as we thought we knew the community.- Kenzu Abdella

Soon after the fire, though, Abdella's phone began to ring. 

He was contacted by groups offering the Muslim congregation space to worship. One of those calls was from Larry Gillman, president of Beth Israel, Peterborough's only synagogue. Gillman offered the synagogue to the Muslim community to hold its Friday prayers, Gillman says, "We didn't know what to expect but I could tell through the discussion it was very appreciated."

While the mosque was being repaired, the Muslim congregation worshiped not only at the synagogue but at churches all over Peterborough which had offered space.

Duane Rousselle, a graduate student at Trent University, began an online fundraising campaign to help rebuild the mosque.  Within a couple of days, people had donated more than a hundred thousand dollars.

Insurance ended up covering the cost of the repairs to the mosque, so after paying for a new security system, the Muslim association was left with $80,000. It donated the money to two Peterborough charities: the YWCA and the Five Counties Children's Centre.

Rousselle says the donations were overwhelming, but "what this community did, as beautiful as it is, [was] in no way meant to erase that trauma but to take some responsibility for it."