Langley’s mosque finds community after a threat

‘As horrible and disgusting as the letter was, more good than bad has come from it,’ Imam Fawad Kalsi says.

By Fraser Valley Current Contributor | November 8, 2021 |6:00 am

By Jasna Rowse

As people enter Langley’s mosque, they quickly remove their shoes and place them in cubbies lining the left side of the room. On the bottom floor, around 30 men have already begun praying in gentle whispers among themselves. Those who have come to observe quietly head upstairs and find seats to watch the congregation. For a half-hour, the sound of people’s knees reverberates throughout the service. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to disrupt such an intimate gathering.

Yet two months ago, a letter was left at the mosque’s door demanding its closure. On Aug. 31, the Langley Islamic Centre received a threatening letter, written in cut-out letters. It told the centre it had two months to shut the place down.

“As horrible and disgusting as the letter was, more good than bad has come from it,” says Fawad Kalsi. He says Langley residents have used the incident as an opportunity to offer support and ask questions about Islam.

Fawad has volunteered as an Imam of the mosque for more than four years alongside fellow Imam Mazhar Qawasmeh. The pair lead congregations and support community members. And despite being a small centre, the Langley mosque uses its resources to offer help to community members, including new arrivals and refugees.

The mosque can be hard to notice. The outside of the mosque is bare and sits beside a mechanic shop, and it is easy to drive by without noticing it. But it’s also partly by design.

After the shooting in Quebec in 2017, the mosque decided to remove its sign from the front of the building, further reducing its visibility. While Fawad said he believes Canadians are peace-loving people, he says the extra safety measures were necessary to keep the mosque’s members safe.

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Finding protection in community

Recently, when congregants meet every week, police stand outside and protect them as they pray.

Since the threat was dropped at its doorstep, the Islamic Centre has strengthened its connections in Langley through the support of Mennonite groups, United Churches, the Sikh community, the Jewish community and the RCMP. Politicians, including Canada’s defence minister, visited and stood in solidarity.

Support from Langley citizens and groups have varied from phone calls to visits during prayer services. The mosque has also received multiple letters offering consolation and messages of love.

It’s in moments like these that Fawad feels thankful and less invisible in his Langley community. Given the abundance of misinformation about Muslims, the Langley Islamic Centre has opened its doors for anyone who has questions about their faith or who wants to get to know their neighbours.

Of all the strengthening community connections, Fawad said one of the most meaningful was a phone call he received two or three days after the threat. On the other end of the phone was a member of the Jewish community. The person offered to stand outside the mosque to protect its members as they prayed.

“That offer nearly brought me to tears,” Fawad says. “You always hear stories about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Muslims versus Jews, the battles, the politics and the violence. You rarely get to hear about stories like this.”

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