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Faith manages: Peterborough rebuilds as mosque fire deemed a hate crime

Thousands of fundraising dollars have poured in within hours of the arson attack on the community’s only mosque

Congregation members hold prayer in the parking lot on Sunday.

Congregation members hold prayer in the parking lot on Sunday.

CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Politicians, police and community leaders rallied to support Peterborough’s Muslims on Monday after a weekend arson attack damaged the Ontario city’s only mosque, shook the community and left it without a permanent place to worship.

By Monday afternoon, there were offers of space from churches, a surge in online donations to help repair the mosque and a strong message from police that anyone involved in the attack would be brought to justice.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, the Peterborough Police Service said a mosque window was broken late Saturday night and an accelerant was placed inside and then set on fire.

Police also said they have surveillance video, but would not say how many people were involved in the attack.

“I have extended apologies for the hurt to our citizens in the Muslim community in their place of worship, and we are treating this as a hate crime,” said Police Chief Murray Rodd.

Usama Zahid, right, removes the Koran and other books from shelves, as congregation members clean up debris.

Usama Zahid, right, removes the Koran and other books from shelves, as congregation members clean up debris.

CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV/THE CANADIAN PRESS


Police officer Larry Charmley said investigators did not have any evidence that the incident was a reaction to the Paris attacks that took place late Friday, but that individuals could “latch on” to events overseas and that the police force would not underestimate that connection.

Peterborough has displayed a unified front. Along with condemnations of the arson attack, the mayor, police chief, local member of Parliament and church leaders offered a portrait of a tolerant and welcoming community.

But the most powerful statement came from ordinary people who raised more than the initial target of $80,000, forcing organizers of an online fundraising campaign to raise the goal to $100,000 – the upper limit of the estimated repair costs to Peterborough’s mosque.

More than 1,700 donors – from Peterborough and beyond – had raised $91,000 by Monday afternoon, just 24 hours after the online fundraising page was set up on Sunday and less than 48 hours since the arson attack.

“We are very thankful and touched by the overwhelming support,” said Dr. Kenzu Abdella, an associate professor of mathematics at Trent University and president of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association, which operates the only mosque in an area with estimated 1,000 Muslims.

At the news conference, Mr. Abdella thanked the local police force for taking the incident seriously and said he had received messages of support all the way from Calgary, and also from a man who drove 90 minutes to express his support in person.

Mr. Abdella also said it was too early to say how the mosque would use the money that had been raised. Earlier, a mosque official told The Globe and Mail the building was insured.

Kenzu Abdella, right, President of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association hugs Larry Forsey, left, after Forsey gave a donation at the mosque Masjid Al-Salaam on Nov. 16.

Kenzu Abdella, right, President of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association hugs Larry Forsey, left, after Forsey gave a donation at the mosque Masjid Al-Salaam on Nov. 16.

NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett told The Globe and Mail he was anxious to learn the outcome of the police investigation, and that labelling it as a hate crime at this stage was speculation.

He credited the local community for extending its support to local Muslims and coming together.

“We look at this as a cowardly act by somebody for whatever reason has chosen to do something that is outside the boundaries of this community, or any community, and it’s something that will be dealt with,” he said.

On the online donation page, people from Peterborough and beyond offered words of support and money.

“I am so sorry that someone did this. Unfortunately, there are many misguided people in the world; they need our prayers. We want to get you up and running as quickly as possible! God bless,” wrote one anonymous donor.

“Our daughter lives in Peterborough, which I have come to see as a wonderful town. The speed of the local response to the fire at the mosque proves this. Good luck,” wrote Kathleen Corrigan.

On Sunday, congregation members surveyed the damage, and started to clean up and retrieve books, including Korans, from the damaged mosque. About a dozen worshippers prayed in the nearby parking lot.

In the wake of the fire, many Peterborough Muslims were quick to point out the welcoming reputation of the city.

Cleanup continues at the mosque.

Cleanup continues at the mosque.

CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The same community is home to the Monsef family, refugees from Afghanistan, who settled in the city in the 1990s. Maryam Monsef was elected as the local MP in the recent federal election, making history as the first Afghan MP and the first woman elected to represent the riding.


The Muslim community estimates the repairs could take up to a month to complete. On Monday, a mosque official said that it had accepted an offer of space from the Mark Street United Church for its weekly Friday prayers – which usually draw about 150 people.

Reverend Eilert Frerichs learned of the mosque fire moments before Sunday service at Mark Street and shared it with the congregation.

“There was an audible shock that went through the congregation. People just couldn’t imagine that happening,” he said.

The church decided to immediately offer the local Muslim community a prayer space.

A similar offer came from All Saints’ Anglican Church, which itself was the target of arson more than 20 years ago and had to be refurbished – costing several hundred thousands of dollars, according to Reverend Geoff Howson.

“The church rebounded from that. And you know, as soon as I saw what had happened to the mosque, I think we had at our own church a sense of empathy and understanding of how devastating this feels when a sacred place is destroyed,” he said.

With reports from Colin Freeze and The Canadian Press

Imam Shazim Khan walks down the stairs at his mosque Masjid Al-Salaam in Peterborough, Ont

Imam Shazim Khan walks down the stairs at his mosque Masjid Al-Salaam in Peterborough, Ont

NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANADIAN PRESS


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