Montreal mosques hold open doors to foster understanding in wake of tragedy
Members of the public arrive at the Assuna Annabawiyah mosque for the annual mosque open door event in Montreal, Sunday, February 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, February 12, 2017 6:02PM EST
Two weeks after a gunman killed six Muslim men as they prayed in Quebec City, mosques around Montreal held open door events aimed at fostering understanding in the wake of the tragedy.
The Quebec City shooting was a "wake up call" that highlighted the need for more dialogue between cultural communities, according to Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal.
"We want to deconstruct these false stereotypes and break that link of disinformation and misinformation within our society," he said Sunday at the Assuna Annabawiyah mosque.
"There's a lot of it, and now we know it's not just talk."
About 14 mosques were to participate in Sunday's event, which in some cases included meals, presentations, and meet-and-greets.
Visitors arriving at the Assuna mosque in the Parc-Extension neighborhood were offered Tim Hortons coffee and doughnuts, spicy tea, and answers to their questions.
One visitor, who only identified herself as Luce and indicated she was 77, said the shooting in Quebec City prompted her to visit a mosque for the first time.
"It makes you wonder what you can do to be closer to these people instead of looking at them from a distance," she said.
Luce, who attended with her daughter Yolande, said she asked mosque members about their beards and attire, as well as "why they don't shake hands with women."
She said she was told the no-touching policy was "all about keeping the respect between men and women" -- which she deemed a "very good answer."
Another visitor, Julie Bruneau, came with a group of family and friends that included her seven-year-old son.
She said the event was a chance for him to learn more about diversity, especially since several of his schoolmates were Muslim.
"That's a reality he shares with his classmates, so I think (the event) is a way to create those links and discover new spaces," she said.
In the main hall, several dozen people browsed through pamphlets with titles like "an illustrated guide to Islam" and "what do they say about the Qur'an?" and chatted with the mosque's regulars.
When the call to prayer came, visitors were invited to a balcony to watch as some 80 men bowed down facing Mecca for the afternoon ritual.
One visitor, 58-year-old Isabelle Larrivee, said it was a chance to meet her neighbours. She said she's already familiar with Islam after spending 12 years in Morocco, but appreciated the mosque's offer to demystify its activities to the public.
"I think its really important to open things, for ordinary people who don't know the Muslim culture to see, to talk and to realize there are some very welcoming and nice people here."
Elmenyawi said the rise of far-right politics show that all communities must try harder to understand each other.
"We want to work together to make sure the effect of these people will be very little," he said.
At the Islamic Centre of Quebec in the Saint-Laurent borough, Danish Muzaffar said he wanted people to know they can visit any day, not just once a year.
"It's always been an open house," he said as he set out a tray of vegetarian samosas. "As long as you take off your shoes at the entrance, you're welcome."