The loss of innocence

Why the recent attack at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec was an attack on people of faith, not just Islam

There is an innocence lost when a group of worshipers are targeted by a gunman.

During the evening prayers on January 29, 2017, the Islamic community of Quebec City gathered at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (Islamic cultural centre of Quebec) to pray. Doing what they have always done.

Theirs is a community of faith that goes back over a millennium. They are immigrants to Canada, as most of us are, and have enjoyed, along with the rest of us, the religious freedom that is in such abundance on these shores. A freedom that did not come easy. A freedom that had to mature with the nation. A freedom that we must still cherish and be diligent in maintaining.

As the men gathered to pray. The innocence of that moment - the moment of prayer - was grotesquely mutilated by violence of gunfire. A man, whose motives we have yet to discover but whose motives are irrelevant in any event, shot his gun at innocent praying men killing six and wounding many more. The gravity of the scene should not be lost on us. The barbarism of this act must be seen for what it is.

Places of worship are places where we contemplate the divine and the universe. It is our safe place of refuge from the winds of violence and chaos. It is a place of order, tradition, and reflection of life’s mysteries. Across this country there are millions of people of faith. People of faith who desire nothing more but to serve their God and their fellow citizens in a spirit of peace.

People who attend their places of worship are following the dictates of their inner most soul and conscience. For them it is not simply a matter of choice but a matter of duty to their divinity, in this case Allah, and to their fellow believers. Not once have I had to fear that when I fell on my knees during a church service I would hear that holy moment obliterated with a sound of gun fire. Nor should I or anyone else.

Our safe places of worship must not now be shattered. What the lasting impact of this event will be is yet to be seen. Will we have to be looking over our shoulder when we fall to our knees – just in case? Do we have to have security at the doors of our houses of worship?

While this massacre was meant to be targeted at the Islamic community, it was not. It was a targeted attack against all people of faith in this country. But it was more than that. It was an attack on all Canadians and our cherished freedom as a plural society. It was an attack on who we are - a people of generosity, of openness, of peace loving concern for the other. Canadians define ourselves not as an “us” and a “them” but a “we”.

Over the coming days we will mourn the terrible loss of the fathers, the brothers, the sons, the husbands, and the friends who died as they prayed. We also mourn for the loss of innocence as a country that has long prided itself as a beacon of hope for those who suffer religious persecution.

We are mourning the depravity that would lead one of our own to commit such a crime against us. In the midst of the carnage we must reaffirm our commitment to one another, as fellow sojourners, that we respect and love one another as brothers and sisters.

Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand speaking in a 1953 decision wrote,

“A religious incident reverberates from one end of this country to the other, and there is nothing to which the "body politic of the Dominion" is more sensitive.”

Indeed, no truer words have been spoken. Religious freedom, the ability to worship without hindrance, fear or reprisal, forms the very bedrock of our society. Seeing that bedrock shake in such a brutal way by extreme hatred should give us pause and ask how we could have come to such a place as this.

What ought we to do to maintain our country as one of hope, not fear? In the end, it begins in our own hearts to winnow back the seeds of prejudice against those who live differently than we do. Ours is a country that is open to all people and so it should remain.

We may have lost our innocence, but may we never lose our resolve to be a people that rejects all forms of prejudice and hate.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Barry W. Bussey, Director, Legal Affairs, Canadian Council of Christian Charities. He blogs at lawandreligion.org