The Waterloo Masjid is part of the Muslim Society of Waterloo and Wellington Counties. OLIVIA REID PHOTO

National Day of Remembrance For Muslim Community

On Jan. 28, the federal government declared that Jan. 29, will become a National Day of Remembrance for the 2017 Quebec City mosque terrorist attack. 

In a move to honour the victims and their families, this day will be used to promote action against Islamophobia, as outlined in a statement from the Ministry of Canadian Heritage. 

Four years ago, on Jan. 29, 2017, one of the deadliest shootings in Canadian history occurred. 

A gunman, who was motivated by the rhetoric of white nationalists and Donald Trump opened fire in the Islamic Cultural Centre in Sainte-Foy, Quebec, just after evening prayers. In less than two minutes, six men were murdered, five were injured, 17 children lost their fathers and six wives lost their husbands. 

This senseless act of terrorism, fueled by white supremacy, sent aftershocks throughout the rest of Canada, and the fear is still there to this day. 

“I remember praying in the mosque,” Fauzia Mazhar, executive director of the Coalition of Muslim Women KW (CMW-KW), said.

“…and in the back of my mind thinking, what if someone attacks here?” 

CMW-KW was founded in 2010 by a group of Muslim women. They are a grassroots, federally registered not-for-profit organization. Their work aims to empower Muslim women and girls to be change-makers and leaders.

“The CMW came together as a response to Bill-94 in Quebec,” Mazhar said. Bill-94 was introduced in 2010, requiring that public sector workers remove face coverings while in office.

“We can probably describe [Bill-94] as the first attempt from the state to bring in codified discrimination, particularly targeted towards the Muslim community, especially Muslim women.”

Since then, CMW-KW has been hard at work advocating for the Muslim community locally and beyond.    

Mazhar commented on the time when the terrorist attack happened.

“Most mosques, they were not prepared for any kind of emergency. People did not think it would be a problem in a country like Canada, so there weren’t any plans,” Mazhar said.

“I think there were a lot of people who had this at the back of their mind, but there was still no preparedness for this.” 

Mazhar noted that at the time of the terrorist attack in Quebec, many community members in KW reached out and stood in solidarity with the Muslim community. 

“There was a vigil organized the day after and it was very well attended, a lot of people came out”. 

That’s not to say that there wasn’t any racist backlash from the community.

“Even at the time, there were loud voices saying, you know, they deserved it,” Mazhar noted.

Mazhar explained that since 2017, those who share the same far-right sentiment as the Quebec City gunman have become more organized. 

“Their [white nationalist] narratives have become more sophisticated and their voices have gotten louder.” 

Although there is much work to be done, the National Day of Remembrance is a step in the right direction. 

“I think the Muslim community are feeling that they’re at least heard at this point,” Mazhar said.

Mazhar emphasized the fact that it took four years of gruelling advocacy work from Canadian Muslim groups to get this day recognized, and while it is celebrated, it is largely overdue.

“Muslim organizations have put themselves at risk to be where we are now. [They’ve taken] personal risks and organizational risks.”

Mazhar expressed that while the community is relieved that Jan. 29, will now be recognized as a day of remembrance, addressing the rising issues of online hate and the continuing rise of far-right extremism must be dealt with in order to create an equally safe society for Muslim Canadians.

“[Hate] is something that we need to recognize as an illness in our own society, that not all members of our society are able to thrive until we have addressed Islamophobia.”