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'Threatened to burn mosque down': Canadian Muslims reel after botched attack in Markham

The attack on the Islamic Society of Markham is the latest in a number of Islamophobic incidents in Canada
The Islamic Society of Markham held a press conference on 10 April 2023 in Markham, Ontario, Canada.
The Islamic Society of Markham held a press conference on 10 April 2023 in Markham, Ontario, Canada (Courtesy Islamic Society of Markham)

Muslims in Canada are calling for more protection and a serious engagement with Islamophobia after a man entered a mosque brandishing a weapon, threatened congregants, damaged mosque property, and tried to run over worshippers in the parking lot.

At a press conference at the Islamic Society of Markham on Monday, Qasir Nasir Khan, the mosque's president, said the incident had shocked the community.

“It was shocking. It could have resulted in serious injury or, God forbid, even fatalities,” Khan said. “Make no mistake, we could have been at a funeral today," Khan said.

"He threatened to burn the mosque down," Khan added.

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The incident, which took place late last week, is just the latest in a spate of Islamophobic attacks in Canada that has left experts and observers pondering over the rise of hate-based crimes in the US. 

"Those who frequent this Markham mosque, and their loved ones, have been deeply anxious this weekend. We must do all we can to counter the hate that threatens our rights and freedoms and hold perpetrators accountable," Amira Elghawaby, the country's newly appointed special representative on combating Islamophobia, said in a statement.

On Sunday, local police said it had charged 28-year-old Sharan Karunakaran with several criminal offences after a suspected hate-motivated incident.

Several commentators have speculated that Karunakaran has ties with Hindu far-right groups, but the police have so far said they didn't believe the suspect had links to such groups. 

Nadia Hassan, from the Islamic Society of Markham, reiterated that the connections were mere speculation and that "police were still investigating all angles".

"They have faced other incidents and threats but nothing quite like this," Hassan told Middle East Eye.

York regional police did not reply to MEE's request for comment. 

Calls for accountability

The attack on the mosque, located around 30km from Toronto, also prompted condemnations from several elected officials.

On Monday, Helena Jaczek, the member of parliament for Markham, said she was "appalled to hear of the violent hate crime the Islamic Society of Markham was subject to, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. Muslim Canadians deserve to feel safe in our community".

Likewise, Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng said she was "deeply disturbed to hear of the violent hate crimes and racist behaviour at the Islamic Society of Markham. To Muslims in Markham and Canada, I stand with you."

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The incident comes just days after police opened a case into a possible hate crime in Toronto, after a local mosque was vandalised, raising additional questions over the safety of Muslims in the country.

There has been a rise in Islamophobic incidents in Canada in recent years. Observers say that the rising Islamophobia has exposed the myth of Canadian multiculturalism.

In August 2022, government agency Statistics Canada reported that hate crimes against Muslim communities across Canada had increased by 71 percent in 2021 alone. 

In June 2021, four members of a Muslim family were killed when a 2o-year-old man ran them over with his pick-up truck in London, Ontario.

In 2020, a mosque caretaker was killed in the Toronto area, while three years earlier, a gunman killed six Muslim men at a mosque in Quebec City.

Following the attack on worshippers at the Quebec City Mosque in 2017, the Canadian parliament passed Motion 103, a non-binding resolution, that condemned Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism.

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