Hundreds gather at Calgary memorial service for Christchurch victims


Worshippers attend a memorial service at the Al Madinah Islamic Centre in Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 15, 2019, for the victims of the mosque shootings that occurred in New Zealand. JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS
The sounds of kids playing and soccer balls thumping off the walls of indoor sports fields were a stark contrast to a more sombre atmosphere just steps away.

About 400 people were gathered in the gymnasium basement of Calgary’s northeast Genesis Centre for a special memorial service, called Fateha, to pray for the victims and families of the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand earlier Friday that took dozens of lives. Hundreds of pairs of shoes lined the perimeter of the gym, where prayer mats were placed on the floor.

“We read some verses from the Qur’an and then we supplicate to our mighty God for the forgiveness of those who died and the strength of the families who are behind them, and show our solidarity and respect for the victims,” explained Imam Syed Soharwardy. The service was held by the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada and Muslims Against Terrorism.

It’s likely many of the people who joined in prayer Friday morning in Calgary were thinking of their Muslim brothers and sisters who attended Friday Prayer, or Jumu’ah, before the brutal attack at Al-Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch.

“This is nothing but terrorism against Muslims. This is nothing but hate against Muslims. This is nothing but Islamophobia,” said Soharwardy of the shootings.

Shortly after the service, members from a variety of faiths gathered to denounce the attacks.

In a small room, close to the gym, Soharwardy, Father Adrian Martens of the Catholic Diocese of Calgary, Rabbi Shaul Osadchey of Beth Tzedec Congregation, Sikh community leader Parmeet Singh and Alberta Minister of Community and Social Services Irfan Sabir, among others, took turns sharing their thoughts on the horrific attack and what can be done in its aftermath.

“When people of different faiths and different communities come together, it encourages us,” said Soharwardy. “It shows us that we are all united against hate, we all united against Islamophobia, we are all united against anti-Semitism. That sends a very strong message in the community that hate has no place in any faith.”

Similarly, Osadchey said, “We understand that our faiths are linked together. An attack against us is an attack against everyone.

“In the wake of these tragic instances, we come together more committed, more deeply affirming the values that bring us together, that says we are all God’s creatures, our blood is all the same colour, and we have to continue to move forward with great perseverance, with great passion to eradicate this kind of hatred and instead, to promote what we all profess, which is love and justice and the well-being of everyone,” he said.

Martens echoed his sentiment: “Unfortunately, sometimes it takes tragedies like this to remind us of our common humanity, but I think we can sort of be a beacon of hope, even from Calgary to the rest of the world, of inter-religious unity.”

Other horrific tragedies, like the Quebec City mosque shootingPittsburgh synagogue shootingand Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting, were mentioned during the gathering. Leaders shared similar thoughts, saying enough is enough and urging changes be made to prevent religious attacks in the future.

Soharwardy said far too often people condemn the actions only to “go back to their normal business” shortly after, failing to make a lasting impact.

“Yes, we cannot eliminate extremists from the planet Earth. There will always be, there have always been in the past. But what is alarming is that hate is on the rise. That is not acceptable. In order to minimize or eliminate hate from our communities, there has to be laws.

“Our government has to declare Islamophobia as a hate crime,” he said. “We cannot compromise (for) less than this.”

Sabir said, “I think today is the day, on behalf of the government, that we recommit . . . to ending hate wherever it’s found and in whatever form it takes. . . We do respect free speech, yes, but no right is absolute. At some point, we have to make sure that free speech doesn’t (include) spreading hate and spreading those kinds of ideologies that divide us.”

He said the government is dedicated to ending hate, discrimination and racism “in all its forms.”


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