Seeing the glass door to their Islamic Centre of South Calgary smashed to bits was telling enough. Finding a burned copy of the Koran, and a threatening letter, was ample reason for getting the police involved. But instead of lashing out in anger, the head of the ICSC has offered a reasoned reply. Junaid Mahoon spoke with Allan Maki.
What would you like to see happen from this incident?
When this happened last Saturday, many people were fearful. …"What could happen now?" I talked to a couple of people – my board of directors here as well – and the thing we said was the burning of the Koran or the Bible is despicable. We cannot support any targeted act against any group. But [chastising] someone with anger is not going to be the right path in this case. It is actually what that person wants. I feel it is with compassion that we need to look at this. We need to make sure we forgive the person and ask him to engage in a meaningful discussion. If there's a hidden element of vindictiveness, that would not solve the issue. There could be many more such people like that over time.
What did the letter left by the perpetrator say?
It mentioned Donald Trump and how there should be a list of Muslims and a way to restrict them from becoming Canadian. There were other threats. That's why the police hate-crimes unit has the letter as evidence. … Hate or Islamophobia does not work and it is not part of our heritage as well. When I was choosing to come to Canada, I was not a refugee. I was comparing which country to go to – Canada or Australia. And I chose Canada; the reason was since childhood, I had seen and heard the stories of how Canadians are welcomed around the world. There are always issues in society but one thing I've always heard is dialogue has been the paramount feature of the Canadian way.
From anti-Muslim graffiti sprayed at transit stations and on school walls, to the 40 hate-themed posters displayed around the University of Calgary – and now this, at your place of worship – do you feel things are escalating?
That part does come to mind. Obviously, our board of directors was concerned and shocked. Then we talked more about it and said, "You know what, we are better than this." Let the police do their due diligence. We want to connect with the community. They have curiosity. They've wanted to know how we prayed; what happens here. We're a non-profit organization. We give to the food bank. We collected [donations] for Fort McMurray. We do charitable support work. It helps us stick together.
How has your community responded?
The other day an elderly lady from across the street came over and said, "I'm so disappointed. I want to help." A man came here and offered to fix the door for us. I would like to thank all the people who came forward and offered help. People, they all say the same thing – that they have never faced this kind of thing directly. But it was a "wow, we never thought it would happen in our backyard."
Have you talked to your kids about the incident?
I have two children – eight years old and 10. They didn't understand. "Who would break a door?" They didn't understand what Islamophobia is. What they were more worried about was, "Can somebody come and break our door?" I said no, not really, but if somebody made that mistake, the police would come and take care of it. More importantly, we would need to talk to him. I wanted to educate my children but I didn't want to taint fresh young brains.
This interview has been edited and condensed.