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'We want to be safe, we want to be protected', says member of local Muslim community

·5 min read

Islamophobia is hidden and isn’t talked about in Canada, according to a member of the Timmins Islamic Centre

Moustapha Kori M'bami, who has lived in Canada for over 20 years, said the tragedy that happened in London, Ont. last weekend was unfortunate.

“I feel bad, my heart is broken,” he said.

On Sunday, June 6, a Muslim family was out for an evening walk when a man in a pickup truck mounted the curb and ran them over in what police said was an intentional act of hate.

Four members of the family — Salman Afzaal,46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna Salman, 15, and her grandmother Talat Afzaal, 74 — have died. The nine-year-old son Fayez remains in a hospital but is expected to recover, according to media reports.

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

As a Black man and as a Muslim in Canada, Kori M'bami said he has seen a lot in the past two decades. Many times, people would drive by, roll their windows down and shout or someone would say something in the park, he said.

Islam teaches mercy and tolerance but that doesn’t mean all Canadians are like that, Kori M'bami said, adding that the more the issues of hate and racism are brought up, the more people will become aware and will talk about them.

“It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last,” he said about the London attack.

During Ramadan, which ran from April 13 to May 12, Kori M'bami said about five or six people went to the Islamic Centre located on Pine Street every night.

The restrictions before Step 1 of the province’s new reopening plan allowed a maximum of 10 people indoors for religious services, rites and ceremonies.

Kori M'bami said on one occassion, they came out from the centre around 11 p.m. or midnight and saw their three cars were being ticketed and a tow trick was getting ready to pick up one of the cars.

He said he asked the bylaw officer what was going on and said there was no sign prohibiting parking.

“First thing she said, ‘You’re not supposed to be coming here and praying here.’ That’s what she told me, right into my face,” Kori M'bami said with indignation in his voice. "She said, 'You're supposed to be home because of the lockdown.' I told her we are allowed to be 10 (people) or less indoors. We didn’t park in the wrong spot, they were cleaning the streets and there was no sign."

He said the bylaw officer told them they were supposed to be fined $850 for not staying home during the lockdown. Each car ended up getting a $75 ticket and all three tickets are filed with the court, according to Kori M'bami.

City communications coordinator Amanda Dyer confirmed that the vehicles were ticketed and said no vehicles were towed.

"The area was clearly marked with signs indicating that overnight street sweeping was being conducted," she said in an email. "When vehicle owners approached by-law, they were told to move their vehicles so that street sweeping could continue. By-law will not comment on any individual’s right to pray. Again, to be clear, no individual was told they couldn’t 'pray' in that location."

Wakas Momaya moved to Canada from India nine years ago and settled in Timmins about two or three years later.

He said he never expected the London tragedy to happen in Canada. Momaya said he hasn’t had any bad experience in Timmins so far but he never knows what’s going to happen here.

“When these things happen, it scares us too in a small community,” he said. “Sometimes, we think it could come anywhere.”

Mayor George Pirie condemned the attack in London saying the hatred doesn’t have a place in our society and the battle against racism and hate has to start with education.

“This is just absolutely gut-wrenching. I don’t know how anybody could ever reconcile with that, that the 20-year-old has that much hate,” Pirie said. “Kids have no biases. It’s the elders that teach them hate. And I think that’s where it starts and stops: right there with education at the youngest possible level.”

According to Kori M'bami's estimations, there are at least 200 Muslims in Timmins and surrounding areas.

Local Muslims, many of whom are skilled professionals like doctors and engineers, are contributing to the city, moving it forward, he said, suggesting the mayor should visit the centre and get to know the local Muslim community.

“The city doesn’t even know there’s an Islamic Centre here,” said Kori M'bami, describing how the previous mayor, Steve Black, went to the centre many times and was involved in sponsoring a Syrian refugee family.

“But this mayor, he doesn’t even know the centre exists. That’s another sad part,” Kori M'bami said. “It’s good for him to know there’s an Islamic community here and we want to be safe, we want to be protected. We want to be good citizens, we want our voices to be heard. We don’t want to live in a state of hiding.”

Pirie said he knows there is a Muslim community and the Islamic Centre in Timmins. He said he hasn’t visited the centre but he “certainly can.”

As the chairman of Northern College, he said he was regularly involved with various cultural events within the college as well as with events held by the Timmins Multicultural Centre.

“We have a vigorous population of Muslims here in Timmins. They’re a vibrant part of this city’s economy right now. We’re actively recruiting individuals from all over the world to come into Timmins,” said Pirie. “We know our future is going to hold people from all over the world. We know immigration is going to be a huge part of the future in Timmins.”

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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