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7 years after deadly mosque attack, Quebec City community focused on fostering harmony

'Within our Quebec and Canadian society there is good,' says mosque co-founder

Clockwise from left, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Azzeddine Soufiane, Abdelkrim Hassane, Ibrahima Barry, Aboubaker Thabti and Khaled Belkacemi. They were killed when a gunman opened fire on Jan. 29, 2017. (CBC)

Seven years after six men were killed when a gunman opened fire in the Islamic Cultural Centre in the Sainte-Foy neighbourhood of Quebec City, Boufeldja Benabdallah says he still feels overcome with emotion.

Benabdallah, who is the mosque's co-founder, calls the men his brothers.

Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzeddine Soufiane and Aboubaker Thabti were killed shortly after evening prayers, just before 8 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2017. Nineteen others were injured in the attack that left 17 children fatherless.

"They were cruelly killed and left their families," said Benabdallah. "Children who were very young are now teenagers."

At a news conference in Quebec City on Thursday, Benabdallah, alongside members of a citizens committee dedicated to commemorating the victims, shared that for the second year in a row there will be a commemoration and reception in the mosque open to the public on Monday evening starting at 6 p.m.

The city of Victoria and the Muslim community held a vigil on Jan. 31 to honour the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017. Seven years later, the Quebec City mosque is holding a ceremony open to the public and hopes to continue working toward curbing intolerance. (Chad Hipolitio/CP)
The city of Victoria and the Muslim community held a vigil on Jan. 31 to honour the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017. Seven years later, the Quebec City mosque is holding a ceremony open to the public and hopes to continue working toward curbing intolerance. (Chad Hipolitio/CP)

The ceremony, held on the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action against Islamophobia, will also be available online in English and in French.Mohamed Labidi, president of the Islamic centre, says it'll be another opportunity to work toward fostering "harmony."

"It's very, very difficult to do it every year, but we have the duty to our brother[s]," said Labidi.

"To remember this event every year and to have a lesson from it toward [a] society without discrimination, without racism, without Islamophobia."

Working toward inclusivity

Labidi says he's seen some improvement toward a more tolerant and inclusive society in recent years.

"Since the first commemoration we have worked very hard to increase the actions of living together," said Labidi. "So, with this theme in mind, we are holding the commemoration to eliminate racism."

Clockwise from left, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Azzeddine Soufiane, Abdelkrim Hassane, Ibrahima Barry, Aboubaker Thabti and Khaled Belkacemi. They were killed when a gunman opened fire on Jan. 29, 2017. (CBC)
Clockwise from left, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Azzeddine Soufiane, Abdelkrim Hassane, Ibrahima Barry, Aboubaker Thabti and Khaled Belkacemi. They were killed when a gunman opened fire on Jan. 29, 2017. (CBC)

Benabdallah says this anniversary is also a time to commemorate the "birth of a big inter-community solidarity movement" among people in the city. He says he still remembers the support the mosque received following the attack.

"We can never forget this generosity," said Benabdallah, as he paused, holding back tears.

"We have to remember that within our community, within our Quebec and Canadian society there is good … Islamophobia and racism, it's only [present] in a fraction of the population."

Mélina Chasles, a member of the citizens committee dedicated to commemorating the victims, says conversations around Islamophobia in Quebec have to happen more often.

"The problem with this type of discrimination … it is part of everyday life," said Chasles.

"To address it, it's not just something we have to do once a year by taking a moment of silence. It involves breaking that silence afterwards."

Creating spaces to 'bridge the gap'

Raza Shah, a missionary and imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at, says the mosque attack is a stark reminder of where hatred and ignorance can lead. Shah, who is based in Montreal, says he was in Quebec City at the time of the attack.

"The day after the attack it was very, very cold. I think it was at least like –30 C and there were thousands of people at the vigil," said Shah. "It shows that there are so many people that are supportive and … want to live in peace and harmony with one another."

The families of Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, and Azzedine Soufiane sit before their caskets at their funeral surrounded by thousands of others. (CBC)
The families of Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, and Azzedine Soufiane sit before their caskets at their funeral surrounded by thousands of others. (CBC)

Earlier this month, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at launched a new campaign, "Coffee and Islam," to foster conversations between communities. Shah says he hopes it can help "bridge the gap."

"We believe in being understood, but also at the same time understanding," said Shah.

"A lot of the intolerance, I think it stems from ignorance, right. It stems from the fact that many people, they have never spoken to a Muslim. They've never met a Muslim."

An edition of this national campaign was recently held in Montreal. He says dozens of mosques in cities including Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Windsor and Hamilton will be participating. He says they are preparing events in Quebec City for February.

"We need to create spaces where we can speak about these things, because that is the only way that we can remove hate from people's minds," said Shah. "And we already know the result of hate.

A bullet was lodged in a column inside the Quebec City mosque where six people were shot and killed. (Alice Cliche/Radio-Canada)
A bullet was lodged in a column inside the Quebec City mosque where six people were shot and killed. (Alice Cliche/Radio-Canada)