On January 29, McGill hosted a virtual ceremony to commemorate the victims of the shooting at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (CCIQ), which took place exactly seven years earlier. The date is officially designated as Canada’s National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia.
Speakers at the livestreamed event included McGill students, faculty, and administrators, as well as members from the wider community. It was emceed by Ehab Lotayef, Systems Administrator, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
“We are here today to remember the victims of the 2017 Quebec City mosque attack,” said Lotayef. “Not only those who died, but also those who were injured, those who are widowed, those who were orphaned, and those who were hurt.”
Repeated throughout the event were the names of the six Muslim men murdered in the massacre: Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzeddine Soufiane, and Aboubaker Thabti.
The burden of Islamophobia
McGill’s Muslim student leaders were central to the event. Speakers included Tahsin Kabir of the Muslim Students Association, Sophia El Bakir from the Muslim Law Students Association, and Asmaa El Mouden of the Muslim Medical Association of Canada. All three spoke about their first-hand encounters with Islamophobia, and its ongoing impact on the Muslim community.
“I was born and raised in Quebec,” said El Bakir. “But I am also Muslim, and it’s one of the biggest vectors of my identity. For many of us, our deen – our religion – means more than words can express. And yet while growing up, these two identities often felt at odds.”
El Bakir invited assembled guests to “start a conversation about Islamophobia: with your friends, with your neighbours, with your families. Reflect on how we are complicit in this system that rejects certain people based on religion and belief.
“Do not shy away from these difficult conversations,” continued El Bakir. “Get comfortable in being uncomfortable, so that eventually one day we can all feel accepted in this society we collectively live in.”
Also featured were Mashaal Oturkar and Arij Soufi, this year’s co-recipients of the CCIQ Memorial Award. Both students were honoured for their ongoing efforts to foster Muslim inclusion within Quebec and Canada.
From adversity to activism
The anniversary of the massacre falls within Quebec’s Muslim Awareness Week, which was established in direct response to the tragedy. It aims to highlights the achievements, contributions, aspirations, and concerns of Quebec’s Muslim communities.
Salam El-Mousawi, one of Muslim Awareness Week’s co-founders, spoke of the group’s collective efforts in the wake of the tragedy, and their hope “to face and defeat ignorance and its unbearable results.”
“Our challenges were huge back then,” recalls El-Mousawi. “But with time, patience and many great people, we started to work our ship, and started to sail through our terrible surroundings, until it stabilized with partners and supporters who believed in our mission.”
Compassion, trust, and solidarity
Provost Christopher Manfredi reaffirmed the University’s commitment to the values of mutual respect and inclusion, and vowed to ensure they are upheld into the future.
“I want to emphasize the importance of our commitment in the face of the rising challenge of Islamophobia on our campuses, and in society more broadly,” he said. “Today, as a community, we come together guided by shared ideals of human dignity, the sacredness of life, and the repudiation of all forms of violence, oppression, and discrimination, on our campuses, in our communities, and beyond.”
Referring to McGill’s Initiative against Islamophobia and Antisemitism, the Provost highlighted of the importance of standing firm against Islamophobia, as well as all forms of discrimination, oppression, and racism.
“Our university brings together people of all backgrounds, identities, and beliefs. The pursuit of our mission requires that we create a safe and supportive climate for all, where everyone feels respected and can flourish.”
A message of hope
The event’s final speaker was Setrag Manoukian, an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology as well as the Institute of Islamic Studies, where he leads a course on Muslim Studies.
“At the Institute we cultivate an open space dedicated to research, teaching and learning about the richness, complexity, and multi-faceted nature of Islam. We read analysis of Islamophobia and racism, but we also read the different ways women and men relate to Islam: devoting themselves to charity, debating theological and jurisprudential points, engaging in politics, praying, and expressing themselves in a variety of ways.”
Prof. Manoukian commended McGill’s students on their efforts in the course, noting that “it is uplifting for me to see the passion and commitment that students coming from around the world here at McGill put into this class.” Although a solemn ceremony, his remarks concluded the event on a touching note.
Below, watch the video of McGill’s National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia event