Meeting at the mosque—Reaching out in solidarity

January 29, 2018 marks one year since the deadly mass shooting in a Quebec mosque shocked Canadians and inspired many solidarity rallies across the country. A new campaign, has been launched online to encourage Canadians to post on the website or social media about where they were on January 29, 2017, and how they felt when they first heard the news. The campaign encourages Canadians to reflect on what that moment means to us now and how we can stand up against Islamophobia in our communities.

This reflection by a Surrey Teacher, Gordon Randall, was first published in the May/June 2017 edition of Teacher magazine.

Plunked on my couch, elbow deep in final semester report cards the evening of January 29, I took a break to check Twitter to see what was new in the world. I was horrified to read of the mosque shootings in Quebec. My fear that the political climate in the United States would leak across the border had come true, much sooner, and much more violently than what I expected. The level of anti-Muslim rhetoric, escalating for the past year, had peaked with the US Muslim ban. Like many Canadians, I believed we were immune from the violence, racism, and domestic strife that plagued the US.

Feeling angry and profoundly sad, and needing to reach out, I began to write. My outpouring quickly took the shape of a raw, emotional, open letter to anyone of the Muslim faith who would listen. I said, “My Canada includes all people who want to be here. I grew up in the Lower Mainland, surrounded by people of all colours, creeds, religious affiliations. To blame a group of people for something they haven’t done, based on something they happen to have in common with awful people, is incomprehensible to me.” I never pictured my letter having the impact it did.

I discovered that a Muslim Association Mosque was five blocks from my school, Sullivan Heights Secondary in Surrey. That Monday I made a card with a simple message, “We Support You,” and invited my colleagues to sign it. After school, I took the card and my letter to the Mosque. Pulling up with butterflies in my stomach, I worried about approaching perfect strangers at their place of worship, a day after someone looking much like me had approached a similar place of worship and murdered six people. What if I frightened them? What if they were angry? I was startled to see an RCMP constable consulting with members of the congregation; it turned out he was also there to extend support. I approached some men, “I have written a letter to your community to show my support for you. I can’t believe what has happened recently, and I thought you might need some positive vibes. This country includes you, and you are welcome in our neighborhood.” The reaction was one of genuine, overwhelming gratitude, and relief. As I headed out, one man handed me a single rose, with glassy eyes. That profound encounter was just the beginning.

I’d left my phone number on my letter, inviting anyone to call. That evening, a man called to tell me the Imam had read my letter after evening prayers, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. He stressed how powerful the message was, coming from me, and specifically for him, a Canadian-born Muslim. It brought tears to my eyes. I had underestimated the impact of my simple message.

The gratitude continued with text messages of thanks from the chair of the mosque and individual members. On Thursday, a friend showed me a tweet from one member’s nephew in the UK. It had about 100 shares. On Friday, inspired by the outpouring of support they had received, the Muslim Association announced their first-ever community open house for the next day.

Saturday, I dug my car out of the snow and drove to the Mosque. I walked in as the men were finishing their prayers, an awesome sight to behold. It was spectacular! The men lined up to shake my hand, smiling broadly, and thanking me deeply. The women arrived from their prayer room, and also thanked me. It turned out I was the guest of honour, along with local community leaders and politicians. The Mosque leaders credited me with inspiring the event and I was invited to walk into the Mosque any time, assured I’d be greeted as a friend. Since then, I’ve enjoyed dinner at a member’s home. As a teacher, I feel more connected now to the Muslim students in my classes.

This profound, life-enhancing experience has taught me that, by letting my instincts guide my actions, kindness begets kindness. Showing basic humanity in a trying time, was what was needed. I am grateful that we’re on the same team, that we all love this country and love being here. I am thankful to the members of my local Muslim community, here in Surrey. While they treated me like a king, their strength and generosity made them the real royalty.

Here’s more from #RememberJan29


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