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In 2007, Parliament designated October as Canadian Islamic History Month, thereby providing an opportunity to recognize the rich contributions made by Canadian Muslims toward shaping our nation. During this month, diverse Muslim communities across the land will share their teachings, their achievements and their history, which sadly includes Jan. 29, 2017 - a day of infamy.

That evening, Alexandre Bissonette entered the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec with the intent of slaughtering defenceless worshippers. Six Muslims were murdered in cold blood, 19 injured, while 17 children were left fatherless.

In the aftermath, the National Council of Canadian Muslims issued a call to recognize Jan. 29 as a national day of remembrance and action against Islamophobia. Earlier this year, NCCM repeated the plea in an open letter to the Prime Minister, supported by 77 Canadian Muslim organizations and 26 Community partners. The call is based on the precedent of recognizing Dec. 6 as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, following the 1989 massacre of 14 women at L’École Polytechnique in Montreal. Its noble aim is unequivocal: “We must not allow voices of hate … to permeate our public discourse and damage our social fabric.” The heartfelt concerns expressed in the letter deserve our respect.

Yet not all Canadians feel comfortable with the proposed commemoration and day of action. While a dangerous fringe harbours anti-Muslim sentiment, it is unfair to tarnish all opponents of the proposition as bigots. We must allow for open discussion without tossing in the accusation of “Islamophobia,” which pre-empts meaningful engagement. According to a national poll conducted by Forum Research in 2017, almost half of Canadians disapprove of such a day.

I am one of them.

Why? Because the best answer to anti-Muslim animus is to draw strength from the time-honoured principles of my faith. Resiliency is enhanced by asserting the very teachings that others seek to destroy.

According to Sunni Islamic spiritual traditions, there is no commemoration of death – no matter how tragic or brutal. Three official days of mourning follow burial of the deceased, during which community members offer respect and comfort to the grieving family. Moral, financial and psychological support continues as long as needed to heal.

The funeral prayer itself is brief and open to all. It is a time to remember death amid the brevity of life, for "every soul,” the Koran states, "shall taste death.” We are to prepare for it by living a life filled with gratitude, humility and service. It is also a time to heal, recognizing that each human being belongs to God, and to God is its return.

For Muslims, the life of Prophet Muhammad serves as a source of guidance in life and in death. In one instance, he sent scores of Muslim teachers and scholars to a tribe that had expressed interest in Islam. However, this defenceless group was massacred in an ambush by those filled with hate. Notably, the Prophet did not commemorate a special day in remembrance of their deaths. Neither was this done for a woman, Sumayyah bint Khabbat, the first Muslim martyr who was tortured and killed for her belief. However, their lives are studied as part of our history, as we seek inspiration from their personal character and remember their ultimate sacrifice in the path of faith.

As for following the precedent of Dec. 6, let us recall that, on that day in 1989, a specific group of women (female engineers at Montreal’s École Polytechnique) was targeted by the killer. Yet the wider lesson drawn was the need to act on violence against all women. Following this analogy, proponents of a national day of remembrance and action against Islamophobia should instead call for a day of action against all forms of hate that "corrode our social fabric” – in keeping with the noble aims of the NCCM.

Does this mean the Muslim community should simply ignore the horrific events of Jan. 29? Of course not. Instead, communities can use Canadian Islamic History month to shape their own narrative within the wider spectrum of Islamic teachings. This is also an opportune time to bare hopes, fears, and hearts with fellow Canadians – as a means of strengthening our social fabric and common bonds of humanity.

Let’s not forget the outpouring of support extended to Muslims following the horrific event at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec. This is a compassionate nation. We come together at times of sorrow. Our hearts may be wounded by the horror, but they are profoundly transformed through collective compassion.

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