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Standing against hate through love: Keeping vigil with Muslims

The day after the shooting at the Quebec City mosque I took my son Joseph with me to a quickly organized evening vigil at the mosque around the corner from my house in Guelph. Hamilton, Burlington and Kitchener had similar events, and I imagine that thousands of Canadians like myself wanted to show some solidarity, and mourn with those who were mourning.

Hundreds of people with similar feelings squeezed through the narrow doors to be greeted by dozens upon dozens of shoes piled up in the hallway. In order to enter the prayer space, Muslims ask that everyone show some respect by removing their shoes. This also keeps the carpet clean.

The building in which the mosque is housed is Joseph’s former Christian school facility, directly across from First CRC Guelph. It is a strange and yet familiar space. Familiar in its structure, but strange in terms of the new décor. The grade seven and eight classrooms were now one long carpeted space with Arabic posters on the wall and a large digital clock. As we looked around, we saw some faces of friends, and hundreds more people continued to slip into the room and sit on the carpet. They estimate 500 people were in the room, and 200 more people lined the halls and waited outside. Other children were present, some with “peace” and “coexist” signs they drew up with colourful markers.

The main idea of the vigil was to witness the Muslim community doing what the Quebec community was doing the previous night – the required evening prayers. But first there were some speeches from various friends, including a former MP Frank Valeriote, CRC pastor David Tigchelaar, Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner and Guelph Police Chief Jeff DeRuyter.

The notion of being shot while at your prayers must be frightening. Muhammed Sayyed, president of the Muslim Society of Guelph, said “This feels like it happened right in our backyard.” Globally speaking, Quebec City isn’t far from Guelph. It’s the same country.

Police Chief Jeff DeRuyter was present, despite his day off, to let the Muslim community know that the police care about their safety. He offered assistance in assessing the security of the building. But he did not limit his understanding of security to technologies or even the police force. Surveying the crowd, he explained: “We have a very caring community. The best security we can offer in our community is relationships.”

Frank Valeriote echoed this approach to the common good. “Violence against one of us, no matter what their cultural background, is violence against all of us.”

Pastor David Tigchelaar from across the road was asked to give a few words. He began on a humble note.

“I would just like to make a confession. I don’t know if I would have been here had it not been for something I experienced two weeks ago . . . The members of the Muslim society invited us to a banquet. They showed us hospitality. They demonstrated how they want to be good citizens of Canada. They taught us through their evening prayer, which was a part of that evening,that they wanted to live their life entirely before the creator. As a follower of Jesus called to love the lord my God with everything I heard an echo in that prayer of what I believe. I want to say “thank you” for that invitation. Today I want to stand with you as a friend.”

Light in dark places
Rev. Tigchelaar mourned the death of the innocent, as well the loss of innocence he felt as a Canadian. “We maybe thought that this kind of violence happens somewhere else. We perhaps thought we were immune from this kind of hatred and today is a time for mourning our lost innocence.”

He also spoke directly about his own faith. “I am taught by my faith that in this fallen world that the way we stand against hate is through love. The way we bring light to the dark places is through generosity and grace; love extended to those who are different than us.”

He ended by talking about his God. “I am taught by my faith that we are to stand with those that are on the fringes. I think that my Muslim friends feel like they are on the fringes of Canadian society. They may even feel like they are on the fringes of Guelph society… I believe in a God who goes down into the dark places of the world to lift the downtrodden. I believe that God calls me to stand for justice; a justice expressed in loving my neighbour.”

A candlelight vigil continued outside after the evening prayers. My son and I left with mixed feelings. We were happy to show our concern for our fellow citizens, and yet we felt regret that it takes a horror such as this one to bring us together.

Bridges form a connecting point between opposite shores. More everyday bridge-building is necessary, and I know some people in First CRC Guelph and in Waterloo CRC, for example, are making efforts towards such connections. Waterloo CRC, for example, has hosted a well-spoken Muslim to introduce them to the basics of their faith and had Greg Sinclair, from Christian Reformed World Missions Salaam 2.0, address them on the topic of loving their Muslim neighbours. Each event is a thread of relationship that builds the fabric of the common good and honours God by its gesture of friendship in a troubled world. We must keep vigil together, for our own good.

  • Peter is Executive Director of Global Scholars Canada, a transnational guild of Christian scholars. He preaches, teaches and writes – having written columns, editorials, news and features for CC since 1997. His book The Subversive Evangelical: The Ironic Charisma of an Irreligious Megachurch (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019) is an ethnographic journey into the life of a megachurch and its “irreligious” charismatic leader. He loves stories that cross boundaries while maintaining integrity.

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