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Mosque inundated with messages
The handwriting was small, but neat, and Moein Shahwan and his son, Abdullah, read the note carefully Monday, each word they repeated charged with their gratitude for the simple but kind gesture from a New Zealander who signed it “Anna.”
Written on orange stationary, it was taped to the Masjid-al-Noor mosque’s door with the sku stickers from a bouquet of mini carnations and was the newest among the offerings from the public as a show of support for the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (MANAL).
“As a New Zealander, I am truly sorry for this act against innocent people from your community,” wrote Anna, whose sentences were traced by Shahwan’s finger as he read.
“This is not who we are and the heartbreak we are feeling as a nation is indescribable. We are mourning with you. We are all sorry.”
Nearby on a table, flowers of every colour, looking more vibrant in the warm sunshine, were crowded into vases. Someone left a plaque with the slogan “Love without limits.”
The association had its own note displayed, expressing thanks for all the support.
Shahwan said such gestures of love in the face of evil are exactly what are needed to combat hatred.
“Yes, it makes a difference, the love from all our brothers and sisters,” he said.
The sickness behind the attacks must be overshadowed by love and peace - lessons that must be instilled in all children for a better world in the future, Shahwan said.
New Zealand's government has agreed to reform the country's gun laws in the wake of last Friday's massacre at two mosques, in which 50 people were killed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed Monday, according to reports by CNN and other media.
“Yes, it makes a difference, the love from all our brothers and sisters." — Moein Shahwan
The man accused of the Christchurch murders is 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant.
Monday, days after the shattering tragedy, Shahwan, vice-president of MANAL, and a civil engineer with the provincial government, remained clear about the way to go beyond the horror.
“We must stand strong,” he said, sitting in the empty mosque with his son.
“Nobody expected it, but we have to accept the reality.”
Shahwan brought his family to Canada a dozen years ago from Gaza for better opportunities. They are Canadian — proud Newfoundlanders and Labradorians right down to his Blundstones, the sturdy boot of choice many favour for St. John’s variable climate.
“From the Holy Land to Newfoundland. My son doesn't know any country for him, except Newfoundland and Labrador,” Shahwan said of Abdullah, 14, one of three siblings, the oldest of whom is 22.
“Canada is a peaceful place. There is a good future for my family.”
While incidents like the New Zealand massacre and the shooting of six people in 2017 at a Quebec City mosque are unbearably shocking, and precautions and security must be a consideration, Shahwan says he feels safe in his community because of the outpouring from friends, neighbours and strangers.
He said the members of MANAL are grateful to the provincial government for the lowering of the flags in reaction to the New Zealand massacre.
”From our hearts to our heads, we must stand as one nation,” he said, explaining true community goes far beyond religion and race, but is about humanity.
The reaction to the shootings is about the sadness of all people over an evil act, Shahwan said.
”From our hearts to our heads, we must stand as one nation." — Shahwan
But he said, the positivity of love among all who believe in peace must rise above the negativity of those who promote hate.
“Peace is the easy way to deal with outrage,” Shahwan said. “(People) have come and shared their support and stood feet to feet, shoulder to shoulder. We appreciate that. … The first day was a shock, but we have to learn from this tragedy.”
The Muslim faith has grown from about 100 people in the 1980s to 3,000 now locally. Plans are in the works for a community facility on the Bauline Line to accommodate the numbers and retain the mosque as a place of prayer, which occurs five times a day in the Muslim faith.
While comforted by the support, Abdullah said it might be time mosques in Canada considered round-the-clock security guards. He said as much in a previous letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who acknowledged Abdullah’s community-mindedness in a response.
“I am proud of him,” Shahwan said of his son.
“God bless Canada.”