Last Sunday, fifteen Montreal mosques opened their doors to visitors. The gesture was both concrete and symbolic, a necessary step in the healing process following the savage shooting at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec mosque on January 29.
Still, I couldn’t help thinking that opening the doors to invite in the wider community takes a great amount of courage. Had my house come under attack, how willingly would I open my door to visitors? The natural and quite understandable tendency in the aftermath of an attack is to withdraw, to close doors, to protect oneself.
To open up to the outside is to surrender oneself to the goodwill of neighbours, to declare one’s vulnerability but also one’s faith that the world is, essentially, a good place and that people are, essentially, good.
Taking off my boots and shaking the snow from my coat, I gingerly helloed to the first person I saw: a man, dressed for prayer. «Is this ok?» I wondered. «Should I be addressing him? Is he even allowed to speak to me?»
«Ah, hello!» he heartily saluted my 11-year old daughter and myself, «Thank you for visiting us on this snowy afternoon. You must be looking for snacks! Please, come upstairs,» as he indicated the way to us.
Upstairs of course is where the women and children pray and socialize. We were invited to a cup of cardamom tea, to samosas and hommous with pita and iced cupcakes. The sweet, fragrant aroma of the tea went a long way in melting my chilly fingers and any feeling of shyness I felt when entering the mosque. My daughter was introduced to another 11-year old and within minutes, the two girls were giggling and sharing photos of their cats on their cellphones.
Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed, whom I understood to be one of the principal organisers of the event, was my hostess, graciously showing me around, answering any questions I had about the mosque, the prayer, the community. She was both patient and solicitous, making sure I had something to eat and drink, making sure I was never left alone to feel awkward.
We talked about religion, a bit. But mostly we talked about what most mothers talk about: our children, schools, the snowstorm, driving to hockey practices. The common thread was our desire for our children to be happy, above all.
And both of us thought: we need to do this more.
As a Montreal City Councillor, I sit on the City’s Permanent Commission for Social Development and Diversity. This Commission recently (but before the shooting) held a series of public consultations on Montréal’s proposed Social Development Policy. It was an opportunity to generate a discussion on what the City can and should be doing to promote social development.
Among the many memoirs and presentations received, one recurring comment resonated particularly with me: the City needs to create more meeting places. Public places where people from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, people of different ages – people who would not otherwise meet - would have a chance to do so.
This is what was happening at the mosques on Sunday. People who would not otherwise meet were doing so. Enjoying a cup of tea together and seeing that after all, there is more that connects than separates us.
While some leaders speak of building walls, I believe that we, collectively, have a responsibility to bring down barriers. That collectively, it is to our advantage to build up our communities rather than to build up walls. And that begins by opening our doors, by saying hello. By sharing a cup of tea.
Thank you to the Muslim Council of Montreal for organizing the open-house events and specifically to the Masjid Makkah-Al-Mukkaramah mosque in Pierrefonds for warmly welcoming visitors on Sunday February 12, 2017.