Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie and author of Laughing All the Way to the Mosque
A few days ago, I sat with a group of women in the library talking about teenage depression. We were organizing an educational session for the community. As we were planning, I listened to the melodic call to prayer in the overheated library. I complained to my friend Faeeza that even though it was minus 30 C outside, I was going die of heat stroke inside. It's an old building, a former church and it has trouble regulating temperature.
As I joined the congregation to pray Isha, the night prayer, I saw men rushing in, trying to "catch" the prayer. Eventually everyone had settled and the children, knowing their parents were deep in prayer, darted off to play.
The mosque has always been the central part of my life growing up as a Canadian. I was married in a mosque and one day I hope to have my funeral prayers there. All my projects have the word "mosque" in it – Me and the Mosque, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque. Inevitably I tell myself my next project won't have the word mosque in it. But inevitably, I come back to it. Ramadan begins in four months and we are starting to organize a fundraising dinner for the Regina Food bank. Large food bins are brought into the mosque every year. And like every year, we will argue where to put them, because the shoe cubbies seem to be taking up more and more space. It was a month ago when Shazia and I, co-chairs of the social committee sat with the board of the mosque helping organize the Aleppo Rally. "Make signs," I said helpfully. "Use teddy bears because it'll represent children." My daughter looked at my teddy bears staple-gunned to the white poster boards. "They look a little creepy." My ideas aren't always great.
The mosque was the place where my fellow committee members, Sabreena, Fatima and Shazia, explained to the mosque board how important it was for us to march in the Regina Pride Parade in support of our LGBTQ community. We all must stand for each other during difficult times. Dan from the Pride Parade sent me an e-mail yesterday to ask how he could help us during our difficult time.
I never used to call the mosque a sanctuary or a safe place. I'd call it lots of other things: too dusty, too hot, too small. A place to organize yet another education initiative – breast cancer awareness, yoga classes, speed dating.
From our mosque parking lot, I always stare wistfully at the church across the street from our mosque. I've been to that church. I've stared at the kitchen cupboards where they have little stickers on the drawers for spoons, forks and tea-making utensils. "This is why Christians are so much more organized than us," I lament. "They label everything."
I never imagined a day would come when I would look at my mosque and wonder if it was safe to go inside. I need my mosque to go back to what it was before the Quebec shootings, a place where my community and I organize, cajole and negotiate with one another despite the differences of our skin colours, religious outlooks and heat tolerance.
Tonight my son will ask me if he can borrow the car to pray in the mosque. I will say yes. I will not be afraid. I believe in the goodness of my neighbours, my community and my country – a country that never fails to make me proud. A country that has welcomed the poor and desperate from all over the world. A country that stands up to the calls of xenophobia, which grow louder every day.
My friends and I will be at the mosque library for our next meeting. It is a sanctuary for all those who come. And I believe with all my heart, that I and everyone who worships in there, before the light of dawn to late at night, some of us five times a day, will always be safe.