The Helpers
As the news of the mass shooting on January 29th 2017 at the Quebec City Mosque (La grande mosquée de Québec) sent tremors across the country, I received an email from a dear great aunt in Toronto. From the perspective of a lifetime of service and as a witness of her Anglican faith she said, ‘Look for the helpers.’ I wasn’t sure what she meant. Who were the helpers of the struggling Muslim community here in Quebec? With every act of terrorism and every new anti-Islamic political statement or legislation, our community and our faith were under attack.
A mass shooting which killed six worshipers and injured nineteen others looked like the next chapter in a narrative of fear and suspicion. It seemed that nobody in the political sphere or the press was speaking out to defend the Muslims, except of course other Muslims. ‘The helpers’ were not the police who had detained one of the victims running away from the carnage, or the social media networks which had spread a story that it was a Muslim who committed this act of terrorism.
I felt very alone. As a convert to Islam and an immigrant to Québec, the Muslim community is my first community. This community is the point of contact which welcomed me as a newcomer and which continues to sustain me in the daily practice of my spiritual life. I was grateful and relieved when I received another email from the Turkish Mosque of Dorval, which is a small local mosque here in my community on the West Island of Montreal, inviting me to a vigil that evening, January 30th 2017. In spite of the bitter cold weather, and regardless that the event was in the middle of a long working week, I knew that I must attend so that I could pray for the families who had been devastated by this event and also reduce the trembling in my heart.
That evening, so many people came to our mosque - some of them even stood outside with candles on the cold January night. We brought out chairs as many of them were not used to sitting on the floor, which is usual at mosques all over the world, and which is the same carpeted floor that we pray on. Who were these people? Talking to them I realised that the commonality, aside from reporters and a local politician, was religious and spiritual belief. Different churches and religious groups had come to support us. That was where I found ‘the Helpers’.
It meant so much to us, the few of us Muslims who were there, only a handful. Where were the rest? Honestly, I think they were hiding. I find it very significant that it was the other believers who came out that night. It was other people of faith, other families, who understood the cataclysm that is caused by a direct attack on a place of worship. Reacting to the murdering of good people, praying to our shared God.
A secular society which tries to make religion a personal and private matter, disconnected from ethics, morality or the law, cannot process or understand the significance of tragedies like these. Human suffering has to be placed within the context of transcendent meaning, and humanity has done this for eons.
To process trauma, we need a spiritual context. We need to have our feet in the mud to look at the sky. Trauma freezes us, it stops us in time and fragments our identity. We become less than human, hiding and clutching our dear ones against the threat. As Québec speaks of tolerance and integration, they speak in the language of secularism and socialism, without the axis of transcendence in the context of human suffering.
I will remind myself of those ‘Helpers’ when I remember – ‘je me souviens’ – my friends and fellow Muslims fleeing from one kind of persecution to another. In the face of evil, it is healing to feel gratitude, to ‘the Helpers’, to the believers and to the leaders in all of our communities who stand on the ground against the darkness.
Munirah Maclean
Dorval, QC