Victoria sends Muslims message of hope with vigil at city hall

After six men were shot and killed while they prayed in a Quebec City mosque on Sunday night, Victoria resident Hana Alqadafi, who is Muslim, was so afraid she thought about not leaving her house.

But after seeing the huge turnout and show of support for the Muslim community in front of Victoria City Hall on Tuesday, Alqadafi’s fear has turned to hope.

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“I feel the support, I feel I am secure, I feel I am home,” said Alqadafi, who is from Libya. “I can see the love in people’s eyes. I believe in Victorian people, they are warm, open-minded.”

Ismail Mohamed Nur, the imam for Victoria’s Masjid Al-Iman mosque, told the large crowd gathered around City Hall that regardless of one’s religion or nationality “we are one community.

“We live in a time where people try so very hard to divide us, but it only brings us closer and makes us stronger,” Mohamed Nur said.

He said it’s also important to address the topic of Islamophobia, which people sometimes shy away from. Islamophobia is rising in the western world and in Canada, which is a source of worry and fear for the Muslim community, he said.

“This is a battle that is ongoing and it will be waged through education and communication.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps thanked the imam for his courage in naming Islamophobia, saying it is the only way to fight it.

“In these uncertain times with the volatility happening in the U.S., in Canada and around the world, we all have a very big responsibility,” Helps said.

“Yes we need to protest and to raise our voice, but we need to do more than that. Taking a page from our First Nations brothers and sisters standing together at Standing Rock [in North Dakota], they consider themselves not protesters but protectors.”

“We have a responsibility to protect our community and the values of difference, diversity and inclusiveness that we cherish here,” Helps said.

Hissein Idriss, who is from Sudan and arrived in Victoria a year ago, said he received worried calls from family in Sudan and Chad after the shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City.

“It’s one of those things you don’t expect to happen, especially in Canada,” he said.

“I had a lot of support from Canadian friends who are here. I feel so blessed. No one is actually feeling scared or afraid because at the end of the day people understand that fear doesn’t solve any problems.”

Geoff Plint, a counsellor who works with Syrian youth through the Intercultural Association, was moved to tears by the coming together of Victorians from all faiths and backgrounds.

“I was moved so much in this moment to know Victoria has been an incredible place of support and solidarity with the Muslim community.”

Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old student at Université Laval, has been charged with six counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder for the shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre. The six men who died have been identified by news outlets in Quebec City: Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry were brothers from Guinea; Aboubaker Thabti, a Tunisian-born father of two; Khaled Belkacemi, a professor at Université Laval; Azzedine Soufiane, a business owner; and Abdelkrim Hassane, a civil servant who worked for the Quebec government.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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