Muslim leader raises alarm after ‘hate incident’ at Canada mosque

Muslims in Canada ‘have reasons to feel afraid’, local leader says, after man charged in incident near Ontario mosque.

People return signs reading 'Islamophobia kills' at a protest in Toronto, Canada
'What happened in Markham could've been even worse. But hate must be fought with unified resolve,' the National Council of Canadian Muslims says [File: Alex Filipe/Reuters]

A Muslim community leader in Canada has raised concerns about the spread of Islamophobic hate in the country after a man uttered threats and tried to run over congregants outside a mosque in the province of Ontario.

Qasir Nasir Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Markham, told reporters on Monday that a man committed “a number of Islamophobic acts” outside the mosque, about 30km (18 miles) north of downtown Toronto.

Police said on Sunday that a 28-year-old Toronto man had been charged in what was dubbed a “suspected hate-motivated incident” at the mosque just before 7am local time (11:00 GMT) last Thursday.

“He threatened to burn down our mosque. He uttered slurs about the Prophet [Muhammad],” Khan said during a news conference. “Most concerningly, he tried to ram our congregants with his vehicle.”

He added that in light of this and other recent Islamophobic incidents in Canada, “our congregation and Muslims across the country have a reason to be concerned”.

“Whether looking at the Quebec City mosque massacre, or the London attack where an individual ran down an entire family with his truck, our communities have reasons to feel afraid,” Khan said. “Make no mistake, we could have been at a funeral today.”

The incident – which comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – is the latest in what Muslim leaders in Canada say has been an upsurge in harassment and sometimes deadly acts of violence targeting their communities.

In 2017, a gunman killed six Muslim men as they prayed at a mosque in Quebec City, sending shock waves across the country and pushing the problem to the fore.

A mosque caretaker was also killed in the Toronto area in 2020, while in June 2021, four members of a Muslim family were killed – and a fifth family member, a young boy, was seriously injured – when a man hit them with his truck in London, Ontario.

The latter attack prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to hold a national summit on Islamophobia, and in January of this year, Canada appointed its first special representative on combatting Islamophobia.

“Diversity truly is one of Canada’s greatest strengths, but for many Muslims, Islamophobia is all too familiar,” Trudeau said in a statement welcoming the new envoy, Amira Elghawaby, to her post.

“We need to change that. No one in our country should experience hatred because of their faith,” Trudeau said.

Commenting on the Markham incident, Elghawaby said in a tweet on Sunday that “we must do all we can to counter the hate that threatens our rights and freedoms and hold perpetrators accountable”.

The head of the opposition New Democratic Party in Ontario also expressed solidarity with the Muslim community in Markham and pledged to combat violence and Islamophobia.

“The violent hate crime that took place in this Markham masjid [mosque] is very disturbing, especially so close to the anniversary of the London attack + during Ramadan,” Marit Stiles wrote on Twitter.

“It’s incredibly sad that our community continues to face violent #Islamophobic acts during what many experience as a most sacred time,” the National Council of Canadian Muslims advocacy group also tweeted, referring to Ramadan.

“What happened in #Markham could’ve been even worse. But hate must be fought with unified resolve.”

Police said the suspect faces three charges – uttering threats, assault with a weapon, and dangerous driving – and is expected to appear in court on Tuesday. “Investigators are concerned there may be other victims and police encourage them to come forward,” they also said.

Source: Al Jazeera