Nouha Alrayyes is determined, religious division won’t happen here, in Canada, her adopted country.
And Kawthar Ismail feels the same way.
Neither of the Syrian women who were at the candlelight vigil Wednesday in Memorial Peace Park will let their new country fall into hate and division and fear of each other.
“You know the reason we came to Canada?” asked Alrayees, who is Syrian.
“It’s to get away from (what’s) happening over there. To get away from the suppression, from discrimination, from being looked at as second-class citizens, from not belonging.
“To see this happening in the best country in the world? We will fight it.”
She grew up in Kuwait, but is Syrian and couldn’t speak out.
“But here we can. I’m going to execute all my rights, online, social media, whatever it takes, so this does not happen … to anybody.”
Both were at the vigil in downtown Maple Ridge to honour the victims of the mass killing of six worshippers Sunday in a Quebec City mosque.
The group Building Interfaith Bridges, organized the vigil.
“We are all brothers and sisters, our hearts and hands are all one. Those kinds of people make us stronger,” said Ismail. This is a blessed country, not divided by skin colour, or nationality, she added.
“We’re all one.”
Alrayyes is bothered by what is happening in the U.S. under new president Donald Trump. Her brother is currently there. “What’s happening south of the border, is wrong,” she said.
“If it wasn’t for the (U.S. president’s) executive order (temporarily banning people from seven Muslim countries) these six people would have been alive, they would have been alive,” she said. “I’m so ashamed.”
Big countries such as the U.S. should be role models for the rest of the world, she added.
She’s also had to struggle to be accepted in Canada.
“We’ve felt excluded since 2001. I had to change my name to get a job.”
After the memories of 9/11 faded, she started using her own name again but anti-Islam feelings have again risen following the attacks in Europe in the past year.
It’s not about white versus black or those who are pro-U.S. Trump versus those against.
“This is about fighting each other for no reason.”
She wants the media to explain the truth. “Please, deliver the truth.
“Muslims have nothing to do with ISIS.”
“Islam is a very peaceful, extremely forgiving, good religion – just like Christianity, Judaism, Bhuddism, Hinduism, all other religions.”
World politics has nothing to do with religion, she added. “Don’t mix the two together.”
People use religion as an excuse, she added. “Just read, ask questions,” said Alrayyes.
With arctic outflow winds blowing and a crescent moon above, people struggled to light their candles.
Instead, they were told to take them home and light them in commemoration of the victims.
Ismail also collected letters that people wrote to the families of the victims. Those will all be sent to Quebec City.
Ahmed Yousef, president of the Islamic Society of Ridge Meadows, had a similar message and began the meeting by reading some verses of the Quran and said the six victims came to Canada, to make a new life.
Christian and Baha’i prayers were also heard while Coleen Pierre from Katzie First Nation opened the gathering with a song.
Yousef said standing on guard for Canada means standing on guard for certain principles.
“I thank you, on behalf of the entire community, on behalf of all Muslims, on behalf of Canadians, for standing up for those morals and principles, and standing on guard for Canada.”
He said “toxic ideas” is the reason why six families are missing their fathers, “because of this poison, these toxic ideas that are out there.”
If someone sees someone being abused, “you stand up for them, because you’re Canadian.”
If someone posts something online, talk to them, he said.
“You will truly be surprised at how weak hatred is, how illogical hatred for someone, for the unknown, truly is. Question their logic, I’ll bet you nine times out of 10, they themselves … will see the error in their ways, will see it doesn’t make sense. Why should I hate someone because they’re wearing a different colour than me?
“It is who we are as Canadians. We don’t tolerate hatred. We don’t tolerate xenophobia. We don’t tolerate Islamophobia. We’re here together in this beautiful, fantastic land that people are literally dying to get to. Let’s keep it as is. Let’s maintain Canada as the greatest place on earth.”
Bradley Christianson-Barker, with the Open Door Church, said the group met two weeks ago, before the shooting in Quebec, to talk about the topic of Islamophobia.
“We thought that we were talking largely about the U.S., but that’s not the case.”
“We’re not going to allow it. Love will outlast violence and hate. So here we are in the frigid cold.”