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|Written by Aicha Lasfar|
|Friday, 13 January 2012 20:03|
Growing up in Gatineau, I could practically count the number of Muslim families living there on one hand. At the time, we had a small musallah (prayer room) on St-Joseph Blvd. in the Hull sector which barely accommodated 60 people, but it was enough for us then. Living there most of my life, I witnessed the community expand slowly but steadily. Before we knew it, that little musallah just wasn’t big enough anymore and so began the project to have a real mosque constructed which was completed in 2008. Built out of the community’s own money and efforts, the mosque is now a beautiful work of architecture which can accommodate about 500 people for Friday prayers.
Personally, it is my favorite mosque in the region. It is beautifully decorated and welcoming, it is well kept and clean, and most of all, the people there are very open and hospitable. It is a place which has received notable scholars such as Professor Tariq Ramadan and Dr Umar Faruq Abdallah who came to share pearls of wisdom with members of the congregation. I consider it a very blessed place.
Witnessing the events of Jan. 2nd and 5th where our mosque was vandalized did nothing short of break my heart. How could such a peaceful place of worship be the target of such vicious and hateful behavior? It was not the first time our windows had been broken, but those times we could assume it was just a few unruly teenagers or a drunkard having fun late at night. However, it appears this month’s perpetrator wanted to make sure his crime was not mistaken as mere vandalism -- by coming back with a bottle of spray paint.
We hear a lot about hateful rhetoric and Islamophobic incidents being witnessed by Muslims in the United States lately, but I had never heard of something like this happening here, on my very doorstep. Like everyone else in the community, I was shocked. I know the mosque has good relations with the neighborhood and even had volunteers distributing bags of candy to the neighbors during the holy month of Ramadan.
I started thinking that maybe this incident reflected a deeper problem. What if many more of my fellow Canadians felt the same way about our mosques…and about us? It was then that I came to the realization that my feeling this way was the aim of the perpetrator. By vandalizing my mosque, this person wanted to make me feel afraid and unwanted in my own country.
Well, no. I will not be a victim. This may have been a hate crime, but it was committed by one uneducated individual. It does not reflect how the great majority of my fellow citizens view me or think about me. As Muslims, we often complain that people judge us all because of the actions perpetrated by a handful of extremists. Are we now going to commit the same mistake towards other people?
I have faith in my fellow Canadian citizens. I know my country and its people well enough to conclude that this vandal is nothing but an anomaly and a bad seed among so many good people.
If this incident has taught me anything, it is that we have a responsibility as Muslims to educate our neighbors about our religion and lifestyle. Far too many people tend refer to unsafe sources like the internet for information about Islam and often fall upon misleading sites and articles. Perhaps if this vandal had had a positive personal experience with a Muslim, he would have not reacted this way. We have a responsibility to do positive outreach in our community and on a personal level to make sure that our fellow citizens know who we are and are not shy to come to us with their questions or concerns.
We hope that the perpetrator will be caught and face the full extent of the law. If I may make a suggestion, perhaps his sentence could be to serve community hours with the Gatineau mosque, so that he may learn more about Islam and our peaceful community.
Aicha Lasfar is a freelance videographer living in Ottawa. ■