Dozens stood guard of mosque in Owen Sound, Ont., after vandalism
Owen Sound Muslim Association
OWEN SOUND, Ont. -- Dozens of community members stood guard at a local mosque in Owen Sound, Ont., on Saturday, a day after the building was vandalized for the second time.
The supporters gathered at the mosque after two incidents where suspects allegedly threw food at the place of worship. Owen Sound Police have said they are investigating the vandalism, but do not have information about possible suspects.
"We're still fearful, but at the same time we're moved as well," said Waleed Aslam, the congregation spokesman for Owen Sound Muslim Association, who noted that the effort was neither co-ordinated nor planned by the mosque.
He said he was amazed to see the community so engaged in protecting the mosque after the vandalism.
In the first incident, he said, tomato sauce was splattered all over the front entrance and the roof and walls were egged. Then the next day, mustard was splattered over the entrance, and the building and parking lot was egged again.
While the first act was waved off as a freak incident by most people in the congregation, the second had members more on edge, Aslam said.
"If someone had the audacity to come back and do the same thing after so much public criticism so much public shunning, then they have some serious motives there," he said. "At that point I had some members asking me what if another Christchurch, New Zealand happens? God forbid, what if a shooting happens? What if we get attacked while we're praying?"
He added that fewer people showed up to the mosque's evening prayers after the second incident.
Ruth Lovell Stanners, who used to be the mayor of Owen Sound, had the idea to set up a guard to protect the building during the evening prayers on Saturday.
"It's sickening, it makes you actually feel sick, when you realize that there are people who feel this way in our community," Lovell Stanners said. She co-ordinated with other community members who could help get the word out an hour before the prayers started.
But signs of white supremacy aren't isolated to the vandalism at the mosque, said Suzie Cochrane, 53, who noted that she's seen hateful symbols plastered on signs and benches for the last few weeks.
"I was ignorant to believe that it wouldn't happen in our community (and) that Canadians in this rural area didn't have that kind of hatred around here," she said after standing guard at the mosque.
After the guard, everyone was invited to observe the prayer -- regardless of their beliefs. They were only asked to remove their shoes before entering, as is tradition.
Cochrane was one of the few who stayed to observe and ask questions about the religion and culture.
"We met as strangers, and yet the minute we stepped on the grounds, we became friends," she said. "...I believe we all have a right to live in this community peacefully, (and) to worship or not worship any God that we choose, and (to) do this safely."
Since the incidents affecting the mosque, Aslam said a new effort of interfaith collaboration has grown within the community.
"Diversity is our strength. We should be accepting and celebrating our diversity," he said.
Aslam is working with other congregations in the area to learn about their practices.
He said that spirit of curiosity is key to combating the sort of hate that leads people to vandalize places of worship.
"A lot of these sad incidents comes from a place with a lack of knowledge. How we target that, and how we address that, is being there for each other and making sure people learn about our culture, our history and we do the same," he said, adding that he'd like to sign the vandals up for a crash course on Islam.
"It only takes one bad egg to ruin it for everyone," Aslam said. "However, the outpouring of love that we've seen have uplifted our spirits."