Investigation underway in Peterborough mosque fire

Police have closed the mosque for investigation after an arson attack set the Masjid Al-salaam mosque ablaze Saturday night.

Police have closed the mosque for investigation after an arson attack set the Masjid Al-salaam mosque ablaze Saturday night.

By Nicole Williams

Peterborough police are searching for suspects in an arson attack on a Kawartha Muslim Religious Association (KMRA) mosque on Saturday.

“At this stage, we’re working with the Ontario fire marshall office and the entire Peterborough community,” said Inspector Larry Charmley.

“I am deeply concerned”, said Member of Parliament for Peterborough-Kawartha and recently-appointed Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef in a statement.

“My thoughts are with the families who visit the mosque for prayer every week.”

President of the KMRA, Kenzu Abdella, told Humber News he was completely surprised by the attack.

“We have a great relationship with the Peterborough community at large,” said Abdella, whose association often holds fundraisers for community causes.

But Magdy Kamar, treasurer of KMRA, said while Saturday’s fire was shocking, it was not a surprise at all. He remembers an incident after 9/11 when someone threw a rock into the mosque window.

“I was worried about it,” Kamar said of his apprehension after Friday’s attacks in Paris.

Charmley said police are treating the fire at the Masjid Al-Salaam mosque as a “hate crime”, but would not release details of the investigation.

Abdella told Humber News it was frightening, because congregation members were gathered in the mosque celebrating the birth of a community member’s baby just a half an hour before someone set the place of worship on fire.

Communications Director for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) Amira Elghawaby said this has been incredibly distressing for the Muslim community.

“This is a place of worship, and a place that means something to the Muslims living in that community,” Elghawaby told Humber News Monday.

But Kamar and Elghawaby said they understood that this incident does not reflect the greater community’s feelings towards Muslims.

“The support from the community has been great. They’re showing their solidarity in their support for Muslims,” said Elghawaby.

The community is showing support through a fundraising campaign to restore the mosque, which raised over $71,459 in 21 hours. Other religious centers are also extending their support.

“I just got off the phone with a local church which is offering their space to us for free to use for worship,” said Kamar. “To me, that’s truly Canadian.”

Abdella said that this incident has them “trying to focus on the positive.”

“We can use this as an opportunity to educate people about our religion,” said Abdella.

Moving forward, the KMRA is hoping to teach Canadians that religious fanatics do not represent the greater Muslim community.

“Just as this one man who set our mosque on fire does not represent how 99 per cent of Canadians feel about Muslims, ISIS does not represent the greater Muslim community,” said Kamar.

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