‘Driven by hate’: Winnipeg Muslim leader struggles after New Zealand mosque shootings

By | March 15, 2019

With a voice weakened from despair and lack of sleep, one of the leaders of Winnipeg’s Muslim community searched desperately for words, any words, in the aftermath of Friday’s shootings at New Zealand mosques.

“It’s just … surreal. You just, you just … don’t want to believe it,” Shahina Saddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, said through deep breaths and long pauses.

“There’s something really rotting within our society, where people think this is OK to do, where they are so driven by hate.”

The attacks at two mosques filled with worshippers during Friday prayers in Christchurch left 49 people dead and another 48 injured.

Today is just … I don’t know how you can articulate in words. My heart right now is just with those families and those children.– Shahina   Saddiqui

A man in his 20s has been charged with murder.

Australian media reports have identified him as Brenton Tarrant, 28, from the city of Grafton in New South Wales, Australia.

Saddiqui has been awake through the night since news of the shootings broke. She said the Muslim community has been concerned about the increase in radicalism and far-right extremism.

A view of the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue in Christchurch, New Zealand, taken in 2014. (Martin Hunter/SNPA/Reuters)

Coincidentally, the Islamic Social Services Association on Thursday began hosting a two-day conference — open to Muslims and non-Muslims alike — on that topic and the threats it poses.

“Today is a glaring example of that,” Saddiqui said.

“The rise of this kind of hatred, we’ve been watching it, we’ve been seeing it coming. But still, we were still hoping, at some level, maybe … maybe we are wrong. Maybe nothing will happen,” she said.

“Today is just … I don’t know how you can articulate in words. My heart right now is just with those families and those children.”

Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, has not slept since news of the shootings broke. (CBC)

The conference in Winnipeg began with prayers for the victims of the shooting.

“There’s a lot of things running through our heads right now,” Saddiqui said, adding that the conference offers promise through the darkness of Friday’s tragedy.

“It’s hopeful when people from so many diverse communities come together.”

At the same time, it would be a mistake to feel complacent to too secure, she said.

“We should, but it seems the Muslim community cannot — we cannot let our guard down,” she said.

“I don’t know how I’m going to talk to my grandchildren today about what’s happening.”