Multiple Lower Mainland communities held rallies and vigils this weekend to honour the victims of Thursday’s shootings at two mosques in New Zealand.
The events followed similar outpourings of grief in Vancouver and around the world, which also served as displays of strength for Muslim communities in the face of rising Islamophobia in Canada and abroad.
Fifty people were killed and dozens more injured in the attacks in Christchurch. A suspect, Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with murder and will likely face more charges when he returns to court in April.
In Burnaby on Saturday, hundreds gathered at Masjid Al-Salaam to pay their respects, with community members saying they were heartened by the number of non-Muslim people who took time to visit and offer their sympathies.
“It’s a very sad feeling, knowing our fellow Muslims have been slaughtered,” the mosque’s director, Daud Ismail, said. “It’s a very painful time for the community, but we are getting very good support. People are coming and hugging us and giving us love, which we appreciate.”
WATCH: Paul Johnson reports from a vigil at a Burnaby mosque on Saturday in honour of New Zealand shooting victims
Jamil Khan with the Burnaby branch of the B.C. Muslim Association said all faiths were welcome to come to any mosque at any time to show their support.
“We’re a pretty jovial community overall,” he said. “Different faiths get together here, and we share our views and ask each other questions so the support we’re getting from the other communities is overwhelming.”
Other vigils were held Saturday at mosques in Maple Ridge and Richmond.
‘He was somebody you could count on’
On Sunday, a large gathering took place on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, bringing hundreds more to loudly voice their rejection of the violence seen in Christchurch.
One of the speakers was Shaukat Khan, a Surrey man who was friends and high school classmates with Naeem Rashid, one of the victims of the attacks.
WATCH: Tanya Beja talks to the Surrey man mourning his friend killed in the New Zealand attacks
Khan said he treated him like a father figure.
“If you hurt yourself, he’d be the first person to come to your rescue,” he said. “He’d sit with you and make you feel better.”
Rashid has since been recognized by international media as one of the people who tried to snatch the gun away from the shooter before getting killed along with his son. Pakistan’s prime minister has announced the 50-year-old teacher will be given a posthumous national award for bravery.
“It’s very sad he had to give his life while trying to save other people,” Khan said. “But that’s what he stood for and what he lived for: helping other people.”
WATCH: Jennifer Johnson reports on the investigation into the New Zealand terror attack
Khan said the tragedy has brought him back into contact with other classmates of his who have since moved back to Pakistan and India.
“We’re all remembering Naeem,” he said of the group’s conversations on WhatsApp. “It’s such a big loss.”
Other speakers included federal Defence Minister and Vancouver South MP Harjit Sajjan as well as Noor Fadel, who was assaulted by a man on a SkyTrain in 2017 because of her own Muslim faith.
Elsewhere, conversations were held between Muslims and people of other faiths, who asked questions in order to find out more about a religion that has been often demonized but rarely understood.
One practicing Muslim, Omar Abdul-Fatah, said he was happy to talk about various terms like “hijab” and “jihad” for several minutes with a Christian man, Roy Abraham. After their talk, the two men shared a warm embrace and a handshake.
“I don’t think he came with a specific question,” Abdul-Fatah said. “It was more on me to explain what I thought was most important about Islam.”
Abraham said he appreciated the impromptu education and the patience Abdul-Fatah gave him.
“Being raised a Christian, I was told that Muslims are a scary people,” he said, “and I realized the only way to overcome fear is to just talk to someone and be like, ‘What are you about?'”
That fostering of understanding is what other members of the B.C. Muslim Association are trying to promote, particularly among young people.
Mohammed Imtiaz Asin, vice-president of youth development for the B.C. Muslim Association, said creating outreach groups to educate youth about Islam is the best way to combat Islamophobia.
“As a community, we’re trying to find a way with coping,” Asin said. “What we’re trying to do is interact with our youth and create a dialogue with Muslims and non-Muslims alike in order to better understand each other.”
WATCH: Jennifer Palma talks to Mohammed Imtiaz Asin about bridging the gap between Muslim and non-Muslim youth
“People fear what they do not understand so it’s our responsibility as citizens of this great nation to portray the message of our community,” Asin added.
Asin said that message includes not only telling Muslims that it’s OK to be sorrowful and angry about attacks on their community but also to show non-Muslims that their religion is nothing to be afraid of.
He also said he’s seen enough compassion in the past few days since the attack from people of all faiths to convince him the work is worth doing.
“There’s an increased understanding, and we’re trying to understand each other better,” Asin said. “We’re creating an open dialogue, which shows us that compassion is key to healing.”
—With files from Tanya Beja, Paul Johnson and Jennifer Palma
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