Jan. 29, 2017 is a day that Muslims across the country will never forget
I remember the day it happened. News headlines flashed saying six were dead and more were injured. What was supposed to be a normal evening prayer turned into a nightmare that would have repercussions for years to come. Hearts at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City and around the country broke that day. Four years later and I still feel the same.
The day of the attack was a normal Sunday, until the news hit that evening. I was 17 years old, in my final year of high school. I remember being in shock and disbelief. Things like this don’t happen in Canada, let alone just a province over from where I live. How did something like this happen so close to home?
My Islamic high school had its own mosque inside of it. The day after the attack, I arrived at school to find police officers standing outside the doors. That day, we practised a lockdown drill, just in case something happened. All of a sudden, it wasn’t a hypothetical anymore. It was confusing to wrap my head around why someone would kill people based on their faith.
The mosque board of directors had a conversation with the school’s administration about safety and security measures to put in place, in the event of a similar situation happening to our mosque. Even though nothing had happened here in particular, we had to be on guard. This was the case for many other mosques and Islamic schools in the GTA. It was no longer a precaution; it was something that we needed to be prepared for.
The Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City didn’t have the luxury of preparation. A white nationalist brought a gun into a mosque: a place of worship, unity and peace.
The attack lasted not even five minutes. In that short time, six women were left without husbands, 17 children without fathers and six men without their lives. Those lives were Azzeddine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry and Abdelkrim Hassane.
Just a few days after the shooting, Muslims came back to the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City to gather for prayer, amidst blood-stained carpets and bullet holes still in the walls.
It’s the harsh reality that Islamophobia still exists, even in a country that prides itself on its diversity and multiculturalism.
It exists in mosques across the GTA, which had to have police officers outside their doors for weeks after the attack happened. It’s the possibility that it could have been the mosque in my school or the mosque downtown or any place of worship. It’s not just in a history book — it exists in the here and now.
Yesterday, the federal government officially named Jan. 29 to be the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia. This is a day of recognition that the National Council of Canadian Muslims has been fighting for since the attack happened four years ago.
The Ministry of Canadian Heritage said this day will serve as a reminder of the lives that were lost and strive to build a more inclusive country.
“This tragedy reminds us of the urgency to stand up against these hateful acts and online radicalization,” Steven Guilbeault, the Minister of Canadian Heritage said. “It is through actions like this that we will make Canada a safer and more secure country.”
Other politicians have also announced their support of this day of remembrance. Joël Lightbound, a member of Parliament from a Quebec riding, said that the government stands with Muslim communities provincially and countrywide.
“We must never forget Jan. 29, 2017 and what happens when ignorance, fear and hate enter our hearts,” he said. “This day will serve as a reminder that we must always be vigilant in combating Islamophobia and intolerance in all their forms.”
From 2016 to 2017, Statistics Canada reported an increase of 207 per cent in targeted hate crimes against Muslims in Ontario alone. In Quebec, reports of hate crimes spiked in February following the mosque attack and accounted for 26 per cent of targeted hate crimes against Muslims in the province that year. However, many instances still go unreported, as Statistics Canada noted.
Nearly two months after the attack, Liberal member of Parliament Iqra Khalid sponsored a motion, known as M-103, calling on the federal government to condemn Islamophobia, systemic racism and all religious discrimination. The motion, that had favourable support from the Liberal party, was passed in the House of Commons on March 23, 2017.
It simultaneously feels like yesterday and somehow a lifetime ago since I was 17, just finishing high school, when this attack happened. Four years and an almost finished degree later, the feelings remain the same. I have grown with my faith and my identity but I still think about the attack often. The fact that this happened in Canada only four years ago shows that incidents like this are not far-fetched or in the distant past.
It’s time for us to do better. Not just today when we’re reminded of the attack, but every day. We have to make a conscious effort to unlearn our biases and recognize that discrimination should not be happening on any basis. The attack is a hard lesson that Islamophobia is a reality and a lived experience that many Muslims face every day. In any religion, there is no basis for hate; only mutual respect, love and peace.