Peterborough shul helps mosque struck by arson

Inside of Peterborough synagogue COURTESY
Inside of Peterborough synagogue COURTESY

Following an arson attack on a Peterborough, Ont., mosque in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, the local Beth Israel Synagogue offered its support and reached out with a helping hand.

“We learned about the fire at the mosque, and I took it at face value, that there was a fire at the mosque,” said Beth Israel Synagogue president Larry Gillman.

“I was sad, and I wanted to reach out to the Muslim community, but on Sunday, I was at an interfaith dinner with Muslims, Jews and Christians and I learned that it was a hate crime.”

The Masjid Al-Salaam mosque, which serves about 1,000 people, was set on fire Nov. 14 in what Peterborough Police Chief Murray Rodd has characterized as a hate crime.

The fire caused about $80,000 in damage, entirely in the interior of the building.

“I immediately sent an email to our board with the idea of sharing our space with the Muslim community, realizing that they were not going to have a place to pray in the meantime,” Gillman said, adding that the board decision was unanimous.

He said the synagogue also shares its space with the Unitarian Fellowship, which was also on board with the idea.

In addition to members of the Christian and Jewish communities offering the Muslim community a place to pray, a crowdfunding initiative also raised more than $110,000 for repairs in less than two days.

Kenzu Abdella, president of the mosque and the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association, said the overwhelming support from the rest of the community has turned a hateful crime into something positive.

“We’re so grateful to everyone. It’s not just the financial aspect that really makes us very proud to be Canadian and proud to be a part of the Peterborough community, but the comments we’ve received in support… it’s been great for us,” Abdella said.

“As you can imagine, at the beginning the shock was, ‘How are we going to get through this?’ It is a small community and we’re not used to these kinds of situations. We’re a small community, but a proactive community. We have open houses, and we invite the community at large to our celebrations, and we have even prayed at the synagogue before as a community, so it is not an isolated community. It is one that works together with everyone very well. So this was the last thing we expected would happen to us.”

Abdella said the immediate challenge was figuring out how to accommodate the congregants, some of whom pray at the mosque five times a day.

“We also have a gathering every Friday for spiritual discussion, so it is a very active space that is taken away from us.”

But because of the immediate outpouring of support from the Christian and Jewish communities, Muslims will have a place to pray while the damage to the mosque is repaired.

“We’re all in this together. We may be different religions, but we’re all one people and in times like this we have to stick together,” Gillman said.

“It’s unfortunate that it took an act of hate for this to happen, but maybe through it some good with come of it.”

Abdella said as grateful as he is for the community’s support, he wasn’t surprised by it.

“We know how people are in Peterborough and they’ve always been great, but at the beginning it was a surprise, because the support came from everywhere. If I go to the mosque right now, even though it is locked and there is no one from our community, you will find people there leaving letters and flowers… My phone and emails – it hasn’t stopped. In that sense, it’s really amazing.”

He said he hopes the restoration will be completed in a few weeks.

Abdella said that this incident should serve as a lesson that “when incidents like the one in Paris happens, it is important that people don’t turn around and inflict acts of violence on others… This is Canada, this is not acceptable… We need to stand together to fight this kind of unacceptable behaviour from anyone to any group.”