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Showing love for local Muslim community

A couple places flowers Monday near a mosque in Quebec City where a Sunday night shooting left six people dead.
A couple places flowers Monday near a mosque in Quebec City where a Sunday night shooting left six people dead.

Hasan Hai was reading the latest updates on the shooting at a mosque in Quebec while getting ready to take his eight-year-old daughter to school Monday morning. She noticed by the look on his face that something was wrong.

“Why are you upset?” she asked.

Hai paused before he could answer.

“There was an incident last night where some people walked into a mosque and people like your grandparents were killed,” he explained.

“Why?” was his daughter’s natural followup question, and the hardest one for him to answer.

“There was no way of dancing around it,” Hai told The Telegram. “The honest answer was that they hated them because they were different. I closed the conversation by saying all we can do here is commit to making the world better with the things we do.”

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Hai was born in Pakistan to Muslim parents and immigrated to Ottawa when he was just a year old. He has lived in different provinces, but has been in St. John’s full-time since last June.

He doesn’t consider himself Muslim, but, like many others, was enraged by U.S. President Donald Trump’s implementation of a ban on immigrants from seven Muslim countries last week.

“I was just writing something (on social media) about the ban when I saw the pop-up with what had happened in Quebec,” Hai said. “It’s just heartbreaking. It’s devastating.

“I’ve lived my entire life in Canada. I’m as Canadian as the next person in every way and in every value, and I don’t see any difference between myself and yourself and everyone else I see. Even though I don’t know what the details are and a lot of stuff has yet to come out, immediately it was like a punch in the gut. The immediate feeling is that I’m an ‘other.’ It doesn’t matter how Canadian I am and how much I feel that I belong — and I know that I belong — I just feel dirty and gross and unwelcome. It’s the people doing this that are sending a message that you are different and we hate you not for who you are, but for what you are.”

Six people were murdered and five were seriously wounded in a terrorist attack at a Quebec City mosque Sunday night. A gunman, said to be 27-year-old Laval University student Alexandre Bissonnette, opened fire inside the mosque during evening prayers, killing six people ranging in age from 35 to 60. Another 39 people in the mosque were not injured.

Bissonette was known for his anti-multicultural, anti-feminist and pro-nationalist social media posts, the Montreal Gazette reported.

Sunday evening, a national initiative was born on Facebook, inviting the public to show up at their local mosque during prayer time to form a human shield in solidarity with Muslims across the country.

Gobhina Nagarajah, a Toronto native living in St. John’s, decided to organize a local human shield.

“These are scary and uncertain times for so many people, and I think it’s important to reach out and show support as much as we can,” said Nagarajah. “I think as Canadians we often look at what’s happening elsewhere and think that we’re doing great, we’re in a much better position, but sometimes we have to remember that there’s work to be done at home as well.”

The Facebook page for the local event, called Human Shield— Protect our Mosques St. John’s, NL, has close to 600 positive RSVPs. People are asked to come to the mosque at 430 Logy Bay Rd. in St. John’s on Friday around 12:30 to greet members going in for prayers.

The members of the mosque have invited the public inside, though they are not expected to pray if they don’t want to. Women should bring a scarf to cover their hair and men should dress modestly.

“We want (the Muslim community) to know that they are supported and that this is a safe place for them and that they do have community support,” Nagarajah said.

St. John’s business owner Adrian Beaton has also organized an initiative to show support. Beaton, co-owner of Jack Axes indoor axe-throwing facility, came up with the idea of charity axe-throwing after getting a text from his business partner, Paul Macinnis. Macinnis is a teacher currently visiting the United States with students.

“He said you can feel the tension. He said, ‘This is ridiculous. Let’s do something about it,’” Beaton told The Telegram.

To that end, Jack Axes, located at 152 Water St., will open its facility on a pay-what-you-can basis Feb. 12, 19 and 26 between noon and 2 p.m. The targets will be covered with words such as “racism,” “homophobia” and “hate,” and participates can do their best to hit a bullseye.

Beaton and Macinnis — with help from Hai, who is the founder of Project Kindness NL, an organization devoted to spreading good deeds and charity work around the province — are putting together an evening event at the end of the month to cap off the initiative.

Jack Axes has already ordered T-shirts with the hashtag #throwaxesnothate and Beaton hopes the idea catches on among other axe-throwing venues across the continent.

All money raised from the events and T-shirts will go to charity, particularly organizations assisting immigrants. Exactly which ones hasn’t been decided yet.

“Honestly, this is to show support and to underline what the majority of the world thinks are a ridiculous ban and new laws,” Beaton said. “I think it’s an important time for everyone to come together and say, ‘This isn’t OK.’”

Hai is collecting messages of support for the local Muslim community from those who can’t attend the human shield event at the mosque, which he will print, bind and present to the congregation privately. Anyone wishing to send a message can do so by posting on the Project Kindness NL page on Facebook.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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