Mamoun Elsaid, a member of the Red Deer Islamic Centre, holds a tree brought to the mosque by Deer Park neighbours who expressed their condolences about the New Zealand shootings. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer’s Muslim community reacts in shock and fear to New Zealand mosque shootings

With inflamed anti-Muslim sentiment, violence can happen anywhere, says local community leader

Horror and fear are gripping many members of Red Deer’s Muslim community after the New Zealand mosque shootings.

“People feel terrified, sad and isolated,” said Pashtoonyar Zekria, president of the Red Deer Islamic Centre after Friday’s prayer service at the Deer Park mosque.

With anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment running high around the globe, Zekria said many members of his Red Deer mosque believe the act of terrorism that left 49 people dead in Christchurch could happen anywhere — even here.

“I told them Canada allows us to exercise freedom of religion. … don’t let hate (win),” said Imam Muhammad Patel, who tried to provide “comfort, solace and reassurance” to frightened mosque members on Friday.

Since arriving in Red Deer from Ontario 1 1/2 months ago, Patel, a second-generation Canadian, said he hasn’t experienced any problems. Some compassionate Deer Park neighbours visited the mosque to express their condolences over the New Zealand shootings, bringing a small tree as a symbol of solidarity.

But there has also been negativity directed at Muslims in central Alberta — both by some of the Yellow Vest protesters — and at a more personal level.

Some anti-Muslim scrawls were discovered on the mosque’s exterior about a year ago. Then Zekria’s wife was approach by a man in Walmart a few months ago who told her, “F—-‘n Muslim, why don’t you go back to your own country?” he recalled. “She was terrified.”

Another local Muslim woman related having an angry man beat her car windshield with his shoe while she was attempting to leave a mall parking lot.

Zekria believes Muslim women are a conspicuous target because they wear the hijab head-covering. But a Muslim man wearing a kufi cap told Zekria that he was given a hard time recently by a customer at a local Subway. Staff of the fast-food outlet soon stepped in and refused to serve the racist man, said Zekria.

Despite these recent incidents and tire slashings that happened outside the mosque several years ago, members of the city’s Muslim community say they are generally happy to live in this peaceful, quiet city.

Cab driver Mamoun Elsaid said he’s lived for 20 years and raised four kids in Red Deer and has generally found city residents to be friendly and tolerant — with the occasional exception of a drunk who stereotypes minorities.

“Mostly things are very good and we appreciate it here,” said Saud Mohammed, a first-aid instructor. But the “devastating news” from New Zealand “is a shock” and has fanned some local fears, he confirmed.

Imam Patel wants the general population to know that the Islamic religion values peace. He said he would be happy to have a discussion about Muslims and their faith with anyone who wants to know more.

Board members of the mosque plan to meet with city officials see if police can patrol their neighbourhood during Friday prayer service, and are also discussing hiring private security company.

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