Candles, flowers and a New Zealand flag lay on the ground in the middle of an intimate circle of people gathered outside city hall in Victoria Friday afternoon to honour the victims and families of the mosque shootings that occurred earlier that day in New Zealand.
Two mosques in Christchurch, full of worshippers attending Friday prayers, were the site of mass shootings that killed 49 people and sent another 48 to hospital to be treated for gunshot wounds with injuries ranging from minor to critical.
Shock rippled around the world.
At the vigil in Victoria, the crowd was diverse – Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, MLAs, city councillors, scholars, New Zealand ex-pats – with all holding space for the feelings of confusion, anger, fear and injustice that arise in times of senseless tragedy.
“We are all hurting as a country for our fellow New Zealanders who have been killed by this act of terrorism,” said New Zealand ex-pat Suzette Goldsworthy. “I served in the New Zealand military, my grandfather served and we fought for freedom for everyone. We are a peaceful nation, so for someone to take the liberty and do that to our country, it has just, as we say in New Zealand, gutted us.”
The vigil was organized to stand against Islamophobia, and white supremacy, while also remembering those who were murdered and showing support for their families and communities, said organizers.
“Words of solidarity are not enough. Let us demonstrate what it really means to stand against Islamophobia by implementing it in our politics – who you vote for and the people you see around you. If you hear people making comments, say something,” said Zainab bint Younus, a Muslim Canadian who grew up on Vancouver Island. “All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to say nothing.”
Gatherers placed lit candles on the ground and left supportive notes.
“The hatred of one of us, is the hatred against all of us. The killing of one of us, is the killing of all of us,” said Moussa Magassa, who is an Islamophobia researcher at UVic. “It should not happen under our watch. We should not wait until it happens to gather here, we should start looking and seeing what is wrong in our community and start working on it and reporting on it. One injustice is too much.”
Muhammad Ghouri, social director of the Masjid-Al Iman mosque in Victoria extended an invitation for mosque tours.
“I would love to have anyone who wants to come inside the Masjid-Al to take a tour,” said Ghouri. “Thank you all very much for condemning this act of terrorism and being with us.”
Candlelight vigil outside Victoria City Hall to honour the victims and families of the mosque shootings in New Zealand. Speakers call for solidarity and action in fighting hatred, bigotry and Islamophobia. #yyj #vigil @VictoriaNews pic.twitter.com/eCPMYXplIL
— Keri Coles (@KeriColesPhotog) March 15, 2019
The public was invited into mosques around B.C. last month to take part in Open Mosque Day – a B.C.-wide initiative by the B.C. Muslim Association to bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The Masjid-Al Iman mosque in Victoria had an estimated 1,000 people show up for the opportunity to learn more about Islam, take a tour of the mosque, receive a henna tattoo and try on a hijab.
More importantly, according to the mosque’s imam Ismail Mohamed Nur, it brought people in to have conversations and get to know members of the Muslim community – nearly 3,000 of which live in Greater Victoria.
Mohamed Nur notes that Victoria is not immune to racism and bigotry but believes that knowledge and understanding is the cure.
“I think the key is education. People, I believe, are racist because they don’t understand a different culture or different religion. That bigotry comes out of a place of fear and the best way to deal with fear is to educate. That’s what we are trying to do here,” said Mohamed Nur.
Hate crimes in Canada shot up by 47 per cent in 2017, according to Statistics Canada figures, the worst year since the federal government began tracking hate crime-related data in 2009.
The groups worst hit were Muslims, with a 207-per-cent increase.
“In a world with ever-growing stigma and confusion around Islam and Muslims, we want to open our doors, our minds and our hearts to everyone around us, irrespective of their background and build a stronger community,” said Mohamed Nur.
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