The Ottawa Muslim community is still grappling with the aftermath of a terror attack on a Muslim family in London, ON, that left four dead and a nine-year-old boy orphaned.
Local imams say they have increased concern for the safety of their congregations and their mosques.
With mosques now reopening as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 reopening plan, Sheikh Ismail Albatnuni, Imam of the Mosque of Mercy, said the safety of the Muslim community and the mosque is a priority.
“We have to be ready and we have to prepare ourselves to take some measures regarding our security in the mosque,” Albatnuni said.
Although safety measures, such as cameras and security training, are already in place, Albatnuni said his mosque is still considering what increased safety measures might look like.
He said the London attack is especially concerning because it didn’t happen in a mosque.
“This incident happened during the day and in the middle of the street, so this is what is really concerning for us. It’s not just the mosques now,” he said. Albatnuni said he encourages the Muslim community to be safe and aware of their surroundings.
“As Muslims, we have now been targeted everywhere, not just in our mosques, not just in our worship places. Wherever you go, as long as you look like a Muslim, then there is some threat there. We have to be careful,” Albatnuni added.
For Maria Hamid, president of the Carleton University Muslim Students’ Assocation, the attack has left her fearing for her safety and being constantly on guard.
Since the attack, Hamid says she has become extra cautious, even when going for a walk outside or on a bike ride.
“I become immediately suspicious of everyone that’s around me because I don’t know if this person has any animosity against Muslims and if I could be the next victim of a hate crime,” she said.
Hamid said she’s been hearing in the community a collective fear about another, similar, attack happening.
“There’s so much anxiety about being the next victim. Who knows if and when this will happen again, because unfortunately this is a reality of living in Canada,” she said.
As someone who wears the hijab, Hamid said increased visibility is a cause of concern for many women wearing a headscarf, or those Muslims wearing traditional clothing outside.
“Wearing hijab means that every person that I walk by will know that there’s a Muslim in the room or there’s a Muslim on the street,” she said. “I’m just a walking target because of the way I dress.”
From within the community to university campuses, Hamid said there needs to be increased conversations ensuring Muslims can feel safe. Hamid said she also would like to see more being done to address Islamophobia wherever it takes place.
“We need action from our politicians, we need action from our university administration and we need action from our community leaders,” she said.
Tahawar Rana, president of Masjid Bilal and a member of the United Muslim Organizations of Ottawa-Gatineau (UMO-OG), said this isn’t the first time mosques have had concerns around security.
Since the Christchurch mosque attacks that took place in New Zealand in 2019, Rana said Masjid Bilal realized they had to step up their security measures.
“Building security and people’s security is very vital and important to everybody. As management we always go through all the necessary steps just to make sure that not only is the community safe, but the building is safe as well,” he said.
Rana said the UMO-OG, which represents mosques and Islamic centres in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, has been working with local police departments and security consultants to pinpoint any flaws in existing security.
“At the end of the day, we are not in the security business. We heavily rely on and depend on these experts to tell us what needs to be done,” he said.
‘A new wound’
Rana said the recent attack is a “new wound” for the local Muslim community, who are still recovering from past Islamophobic attacks including the 2017 shooting in a Quebec City mosque. He added this incident proves addressing Islamophobia is long overdue.
“The biggest problem that we’re all facing is there’s a fear out there about Islam, and this is very sad. The fear should not be there,” he said.
Education and prevention are the two biggest calls to action, Rana said. He said he would also like to see more multi-faith discussions and more policies and strategies at all levels of government.
“If we can all work together to figure out the ways to stand behind this [Islamophobia], hopefully, we can overcome. The peace can prevail in these communities,” he said.
In London, ON, the accused killer now faces terrorism charges. In another development, the nine year old survivor of the attack has now been released from hospital.