Attacks on two mosques in New Zealand that left 49 people dead has sparked a mix of fear and defiance at the Al-Hadaya mosque in Port Coquitlam as people poured in from across the Tri-Cities to mourn the dead.
One of the gunmen — believed to be an Australian extremist — apparently livestreamed the event, and in a racist screed mentioned several names of right-wing terrorists, including Alexandre Bissonnette, who attacked a mosque in Quebec in 2017, murdering six people.
That brings what happened in New Zealand all too close to home, said Moncef Dif, a Port Coquitlam resident who has prayed at the mosque for the last 15 years.
“When I saw it I couldn't believe it,” he told The Tri-City News. “Any human being that would go to that level, there's no humanity.”
Dif watched the livestream video in horror yesterday shortly after it was posted.
“I couldn't sleep last night,” said the 46-year-old father of five. “You have to be worried. The mosque is a place where we surrender ourselves, where you don't watch your back.”
Others gathered outside spoke of the Al-Hadaya mosque as a place where people are married, celebrate birthdays, go to school, and at least once a year open their doors to the entire community. As the hundreds of worshippers moved inside for Friday afternoon prayers, RCMP vehicles circled the neighbourhood.
Inside, the imam spoke of unity, faith and patience. “It's up to us to speak up against persecution — your neighbour, Christian, Muslim, whoever,” he preached. “We do not fall into the thing we are condemning.”
Mohammed Khan, executive director of the mosque, said the massacre in New Zealand only reaffirmed their decision to build up security around a mosque that receives over 500 worshippers a day spread across five prayers.
The mosque has spent over $100,000 on cameras and other security measures in recent years, including panic buttons in classrooms and a direct intercom to Coquitlam RCMP.
“This is going to be a place that we're going to secure and make a hardened building,” Khan said.
And while a councillor for the city of Port Coquitlam recently told The Tri-City News that hate crimes have been exaggerated in the media, Khan said the mosque has been a target for hateful graffiti in the past.
Throughout the afternoon, flowers piled up from neighbours and local politicians. “People care but what can they do,” said imam Adnan Abyat.
Abyat, like many of the worshippers at the mosque, worried openly about where the violence would lead.
“It's being fed by politicians everywhere. It's a different world,” said Dif.
“They can come out and breathe, spread their poison.”