Parkdale offers ‘small gesture’ of support at local mosque in wake of New Zealand attacks

Residents in Parkdale are making small gestures of “love and solidarity” in an effort to stand with Muslims in the neighbourhood in the wake of massacres at two mosques in New Zealand.

On Sunday morning, a small group of people left flowers and cards with messages of support at the Jami Mosque on Boustead Avenue.

“It’s about making people in this community feel welcome and feel safe in whatever they are doing,” said Rebecca Berruti.

Berruti and another local woman, Rebecca Davies, helped organize the small memorial after connecting on social media. Both women had gone individually to lay flowers on the front steps of the mosque last week. That’s when they realized that others clearly wanted to reach out to their Muslim neighbours in a time of grief and anxiety.

“I think a lot of people want everyone to feel comfortable, but they don’t know what kind of steps to take,” Berruti says.

For her part, Davies says she wanted to give a “physical expression” of her own sadness to her community.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” she explained. “I felt I can start locally to show my neighbours that we love them and that we value them and they are safe here — we hope. Islamophobia is rampant. I’d like to think not in my neighbourhood, but I know that that is me being idealistic.”

On March 15, a 28-year-old white supremacist killed 51 people and wounded dozens more in two consecutive mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Brenton Harrison Tarrant launched his attacks while the mosques were full of worshippers offering their Friday prayers.

The slayings, which were livestreamed on Facebook, sent shock waves around the world. In Canada, the shootings ignited memories of the 2017 attack on a mosque in Quebec City that left six people dead and wounded 19 others.

Huma Saeedi is the head of outreach at the Mississauga location of Naseeha, a mental health organization that caters to Muslim populations around North America. She says the mass shootings in Christchurch had a “ripple effect” across Muslim communities in Canada.

“We are still a tight-knit community and we feel like it is an attack upon us. I think it’s important to acknowledge that these are real feelings — that people have a fear, an anxiety, that they are feeling,” she told CBC Toronto.

Naseeha operates a peer-support help line that has seen an increase in the volume of calls in the days since the attacks.

Saeedi says even simple gestures of support and caring, like those in Parkdale, can help those struggling to cope with the emotional turmoil of trauma “feel validation.”

“We need to know that what we are experiencing is real and that people are noticing that and are there for us. So even if we don’t know them, those things can really help bring comfort to people in times of distress, which is now,” she explains.

While she is not Muslim, Davies says she was left “absolutely gutted” by the attacks in Christchurch.

“I think my reaction was one of cumulative horror and grief,” she says.

It’s a feeling that many others evidently felt as well. Some of the messages left for the Jami Mosque were written by people from across Canada — and even some in other countries — who posted their words of support to a Facebook group created by Berruti and Davies. Berruti scrawled them onto cards and placed them out front of the mosque.

In an update posted to the group on Sunday afternoon, Davies says the imam at Jami Mosque told her that the notes will be displayed on a bulletin board inside for worshippers to read. Anyone in the community is welcome to come see this as well, he told her.

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