In Canada, congregants of a mosque that was set on fire are now praying in a nearby synagogue. Their story is one of hope in dark times, as anti-Muslim acts are on the rise following the Paris attacks.

The Masjid al-Salaam mosque, which is the only one in Peterborough, Ontario, was set ablaze the day after the Paris attacks, on November 14. Someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the building. The damages have been estimated at about €56,000.


Following this incident, the leaders of the city’s only synagogue, Beth Israel, offered to host the mosque’s congregants, so that they would have somewhere to pray. “We live in a small town and they are our neighbours, so it seemed only natural to welcome them,” says the synagogue’s president, Larry Gillman.

Last Friday, about 150 Muslims went to pray at Beth Israel.

Friday prayers on November 27 at Beth Israel synagogue. Video posted on Youtube by the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association (KMRA).

"This is the best way to fight radicalism and hate"

Kenzu Abdella is the president of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association (KMRA), which runs the mosque.

This is the first time the mosque has been attacked. We are shocked and find this very worrisome. However, we have received an outpouring of support. The city authorities, the synagogue and several churches all offered us spaces in which to continue our activities.


Since the fire, we’ve prayed at the United Church of Canada on Friday November 20, at the synagogue on Friday November 27, and we’re going to go to an Anglican church this Friday. The rest of the week, we pray at the home of one of our members, who lives near the mosque.

When Larry Gillman invited us to the synagogue, I first wondered how we would organise the prayer, since we need rugs, we need to pray in a certain direction, etc. We ended up praying in a room on the first floor and it went very well, thanks to the people who run the synagogue. We’re very grateful.

"Welcome, friends": a banner welcoming Muslims to the Beth Israel synagogue on November 27. Photo posted on the
Facebook page of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association (KMRA).

 
After the prayer, we held our annual dinner at the synagogue. But this time, we cooked a vegetarian dinner in order not to go against the customs of the synagogue (where kosher meals are served). This was an occasion for the two communities to get to know each other better and to start a dialogue. I think that’s the best way to combat radicalism and hate.

A welcome cake. Photo published on the
Facebook page of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association (KMRA).

"Jews and Muslims have many things in common"

Joe Teichman is the general manager of Beth Israel synagogue.

During the dinner we shared on Friday, there were about 80 Muslim congregants and 15 Jewish ones. We talked about all sorts of things, and realised we had a lot in common. For example, many words in Hebrew and in Arabic share the same root. Since we have a big kitchen at the synagogue, the Muslim congregants suggested we might organise cooking classes together in the future. We’ve already invited them back for another Friday prayer in December.

The different religious communities of Peterborough were already in contact with each other prior to this. For example, for the past decade, we’ve held an interfaith film festival where Christians, Jews, and Muslims watch movies and discuss them together.

Reconstruction of the mosque. Screen grab of a
video posted on YouTube by KMRA.

Reconstruction of the mosque began three days after the fire, and is expected to be finished by the end of the month. More than C$110,000 (about €76,000) were raised in just 48 hours on a fundraising site to cover the costs.

Following the Paris attacks, numerous attacks against Muslims were reported in Canada, and notably in Ontario.
Article written with
Chloé Lauvergnier

Chloé Lauvergnier ,Journaliste francophone