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Bradford vigil for victims of New Zealand mosque shootings sends message of hope, unity

The vigil in Bradford was more than an expression of grief; it was a call to action to end Islamophobia

The world is still reeling from the attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15 by a right-wing white supremacist, that left 50 dead and more than 40 injured.

On Saturday, a vigil was held at the Bradford Legion. Residents and representatives of all faiths came together to show solidarity and support for the Muslim community, and to mourn.

It was standing room only, as a lone piper led special guests and dignitaries to the front of the hall. Dignitaries included MP Scot Davidson, MPP Caroline Mulroney, Bradford Mayor Rob Keffer, East Gwillimbury Mayor Virginia Hackson, and visiting Imam at the Bradford Islamic Centre, Shariq Khan.

They were joined by the pastors of several local churches, and Zulfiqar Ali of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, in an ecumenical afternoon of prayer, that began with a reading of the Qu’ran by Muso Deo of the Bradford Islamic centre.

“We’ve gathered to mourn with all of those who have lost loved ones,” said Rev. Jim Keenan, minister at Bradford United Church, who helped organize the vigil. He noted that the statistics in Canada show an increase in hate, racism and xenophobia. In 2017, hate crimes against Blacks were up 50 per cent, against Jews up by 63 per cent, and against Muslims, up by 151 per cent.

“We begin by praising God,” said Imam Shariq Khan, noting that the “horrific acts of darkness” in New Zealand have been met by “these  expressions of love, that we see in this room, and these moments of beauty.”

Khan said that the Qu’ran tells followers to “return evil with good, with that that is more beautiful.”

The Imam said, “The Muslim community, not only in New Zealand, not only in Canada, has been inundated with acts of love and beauty. We praise God for this blessing… It is in this way the perpetrator of this crime utterly failed.”

Instead of inciting hatred, the result has been solidarity, and love; instead of undermining community, people come together in faith, he said. “The role of religion is to elevate the heart of humanity.”

Khan urged everyone to look within themselves, and make changes. “None of you truly believe, until your love for your fellow human beings is the same as your love for yourself,” he said. “This is a light that dispels darkness. This is a love that conquers… It is from hearts full of beauty that beautiful acts come. “We all have some work to do, in the beautification of our hearts.”

MP for York-Simcoe Scot Davidson brought condolences from the Canadian government, to New Zealand “and especially the Muslim community, who were targeted. Canadians are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of innocent life.”

Calling on Canadians to work to preserve religious freedom, he presented a Canadian flag to the Muslim Community.

There were other calls to action. Ayisha Imtiaz, of the BWG Diversity Action Group, said that the way to combat the New Zealand attack on the El Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre is to fight prejudice. “It starts with creating acceptance. It starts with valuing diversity, inclusivity… It starts with embracing multi-culturalism. It starts with combatting racism,” Imtiaz said.

Acts of violence seek “to provoke extremist responses, dividing previously united communities on ethno-religious lines,” she said, calling on all Canadians to “make it clear that toxic racism has no place in their society… Terrorism has no religion, but love can be embodied in us all.”

MPP Caroline Mulroney thanked the organizers for the hosting the vigil in the community. “It is so important for us to come together as a community, not only in the good times but when our hearts are breaking,” she said, in the face of “unprecedented violence.”

Sending her condolences to the Muslim community, Mulroney said, “Intolerance and hate cannot be allowed to show their face in any way.” She quoted Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations: “Our mission is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity.” The quote ends, “Racism can, will and must be defeated.”

Mayor Rob Keffer also called for “understanding and respect for all people.”

Keffer said, “As long as intolerance and discrimination exist, we as a community must strive to do better.” He concluded, “Those who denounce actions of terror far, far outweigh” the perpetrators.

“At the end of the day, I have hope,” he said.

Speakers included South Simcoe Police Constable Devon Northrop, representing Chief Andrew Fletcher; and East Gwillimbury Mayor Virginia Hackson, all sharing a message of unity, compassion and love. “In our world, there is no room for hatred and violence,” said Hackson.

“Standing united in general but especially at times like these speaks volumes. It speaks to the truth of us all being the same at the core – peace-loving individuals, looking simply to live their lives,” said Ahmadiyya Muslim community representative Zulfiqar Ali. He invited all residents to meet their “Muslim neighbours and friends,” by visiting a mosque, “to dispel misconceptions and build bridges.”

The afternoon ended with readings and prayers, by Pastor Kent Nielson of Green Valley Alliance Church and Rev. Dan Scott, of St. John’s Presbyterian. Piper Robert Post played a Lament, as the Legion’s Colour Party marched off the flags.

“Why a lament? Because the job isn’t finished,” said Rev. Keenan, urging Canadians to “counter acts of hatred wherever we encounter them.

“Grieve. Pray. Act. Love. God help us do so.”

Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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