More than 200 individuals gathered outside Calgary City Hall as activists begin to speak at the top of the stairs leading into the building.
Two teenagers hold up signs:
“Any means necessary!” and “No ban, no wall!”
Riyaz Khawaja, organizer of the vigil, stands at the top of the stairs. He welcomes and thanks the crowd for making time in their day to stand up for what they believe in. His jacket is covered in snow, but he braves the cold to stand in solidarity.
An attack on a Quebec City mosque has left Calgarians in mourning and shock, but Khawaja and hundreds of other Calgary citizens have come together in solidarity for the victims in attempt to protest the “Muslim Ban” in the U.S.
Khawaja says the event is just as much about commemorating the lives of those killed in the shooting as it is to look for peace and acceptance for everyone in the community.
“The majority of people in the world are peace-loving people,” explains Khawaja.“The only problem is when the majority stays silent, and these few hatemongers take over the silent majority.”
According to Khawaja, racism has been a problem for Muslims in western countries. He wishes for a happier time away from racially founded hate and discrimination.
This isn’t the only protest City Hall has seen this month. Earlier this February, Calgarians came to protest the ban and show support for the victims of the attack. Each evening, more than 200 people of all ages and ethnicities have gathered downtown at the front of City Hall.
“We felt saddened and shocked,” says Khawaja about the Quebec City mosque shooting on Jan. 28, 2017 that took six Muslim lives. He asks for justice but remains vigilant in the fight for peace.
“I believe in love and peace. And no matter what the hatemongers will do, we will fight them with love. We stand by peace and we will show our love and try to succeed against that hate.”
Though Khawaja says he has seen a lot of public support for the cause, he is still all too aware of the hatred that exists in certain circles.
“We got some anonymous calls, myself personally, from unknown numbers threatening us, which was reported to the police at the time,” says Khawaja, recognizing the importance of vigils and protests in light of these threats. “Because we stand for truth, we stand for peace, no matter what.“
These protests and vigils have attracted people from many communities across Calgary, including local activists, politicians, and religious figures.
While they’ve come to show support for those affected by the shooting, they also come to protest U.S. President Trump’s travel ban targeting citizens of seven majority Muslim countries.
Saima Jamal, a well-known political activist in the Calgary Muslim community, talks about gender inequality and islamophobia at events across Alberta, such as a rally that took place in late 2016 protesting the Islamic State. She says that the Quebec shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, was not only provoked by Donald Trump, but also inspired by his rhetoric.
Jamal asks, “What is the root of that sorrow? Who is the person that made this guy so bold that he had the courage to pick up an AK-47 and walk into a Mosque, and shoot up all these people?”
Protester Kat Schick attended the Feb. 3 vigil to protest Trump and his policies. “It’s horrible that he’s actually the leader of one of the largest countries in the world,” says Schick. “I oppose Trump completely...unilaterally.”
Katy Summers came to the protest with her mother, Schick. She says regardless of ethnicity, everyone has a role to play.
“Hate is always something that everyone should take personally and as a white, middle-aged woman I feel it is my responsibility to recognize my privilege and listen to stories of people of colour and let them tell us how to proceed in this instance,“ says Summers.
Asfa Riyaz, another protester at the event, says the effects of the ban reach far beyond the United States. “It is an attack on Muslims, the ban is on several Muslim-majority countries and being a Muslim myself, it hits right at home,” she explains.
Riyaz adds, “So it is really personal — it’s an attack on humanity.”
Later that evening, as the protesters headed home, Khawaja and his colleagues cleaned up the site of the vigil, filling trash bags and chatting over coffee. The event he says was a great success and a part of the reason he thinks Canada is a great place to live.
Khawaja says, “Everyone has the right to their beliefs and everyone has their own views. We respect that and we speak what we feel is right.” For Khawaja, that means promoting values of freedom of speech, respect and understanding.
- By Sajan Jabbal