Muslim community in Metro Vancouver bands together in grief
Published Friday, March 15, 2019 10:07AM PDT
Last Updated Friday, March 15, 2019 2:31PM PDT
As the sun rose outside the Jamia Masjid Mosque in Vancouver Friday morning, those inside felt a collective sense of grief as they prayed together for the first time since the deadly terror attacks in New Zealand.
Many expressed feelings of sadness and fear as they learned the death toll early Friday morning.
"This is really horrible. People are afraid. People are angry," Abdu Al Jarsha told CTV News as the prayer service finished. "We are short of words right now on what happened."
The Jamia Masjid Mosque has served as a centre point for grief in Vancouver after a terror attack once before. Hundreds of people held a solemn vigil outside the mosque on West 8th Ave. in January 2017, showing support for the Muslim community after six men were shot and killed while worshipping in a Quebec City Mosque.
Haroon Khan said he felt horror that it had happened again, and at such a scale.
"When I heard, of course the memories of what happened in Quebec were the first thing that went through my mind," Khan said.
Khan was asked how he reassures worshippers who may be feeling unsafe to come to the mosque.
"This place is not my place, it's not your place, it's God's place. It's open for everyone," he said.
"We will never change our policy. Our doors will be open to anyone at any time to worship. It's a place for safety, it's a place for refuge, and people from all over the world come to this mosque."
Khan acknowledged that terrorist attacks can happen everywhere, from churches to concerts, but the fact that it happened in a place that's supposed to be safe is painful.
He said he's been heartened by many calls from members of other religious communities who reached out to show support and solidarity. Khan said a woman from New Zealand stopped by Friday morning to lay flowers at the mosque.
"It touches us. It really gives us some comfort in a very difficult time that people care, and we care for each other," he said.
Police presence at mosques
In the days following the 2017 attack there was an increased police presence at some mosques in Metro Vancouver.
Vancouver police say there is no information to link the attacks in New Zealand with Vancouver in any way, but they are doing what they can it support the local Muslim community.
“We will remain in close communication with community leaders to ensure the community feels safe and supported,” Vancouver police said in an email to CTV News.
The department noted Canada’s threat level has not changed and remains at "medium."
The B.C. RCMP sent a similar email saying that some mosques may have increased frontline policing presence, but that officers are not aware of any specific threats.
Mounties will be reaching out to Muslim communities to ensure any safety or security concerns are identified, a spokesperson said.
"We ask for continued vigilance and if anyone sees anything suspicious to contact police," the RCMP said.
"We encourage all victims of hate to report these incidents… so the appropriate steps can be taken to address the needs of the victim and take action against the offender."
Invitation to stand together
At some Metro Vancouver mosques, flowers have been left to signify the lives lost in New Zealand.
Badre Hassani, who was praying at the Jamia Masjid Mosque Friday morning, said despite the attacks, he is still feeling safe.
"Something like this could happen anywhere," Hassani said. "I am not concerned at all. I am sad."
Abdu Al Jarsha is hoping he will once again see Canadians rally together, to denounce hate.
"We can condemn it with the strongest words. This is an invitation right now for everyone to stand together against terrorism, against bigotry, racism, prejudice."
Local politicians also used words of condemnation and preached the importance of unity and diversity.
The mosque is aware of a prayer vigil organized by others to take place starting at 7:30 p.m.