25-2939 Fairlea Crescent
Ottawa, ON K1V 9A5
Dear Imam Samy Metwally,
I simply wanted to email you to let you know what a great opportunity it was to visit your mosque on Saturday March 11, especially in light of recent events.
As someone who has long attempted to explain to people my “unpopular” opinions to other Westerners that, yes, the hijab is a choice and that I’ve never had a need to be afraid of Muslims after 9/11, I was devastated but not necessarily surprised when your mosque was vandalised after Trump was elected. The same, unfortunately, goes for the recent terrorist attack against your fellow Muslim brothers and sisters in Quebec City. If there is any silver lining to either of these tragedies, it’s that they galvanized my need to act. I participated in the Day of Action Against Islamophobia last month, as well as the candlelight vigil in front of Parliament Hill and Ottawa Against Fascism’s Counter Rally Against Ottawa Islamophobes. So, needless to say, recent events certainly lit my fire.
Despite my recent activism, I was still looking for an opportunity to really learn more about Islam and build allyship beyond simply asking my coworkers random questions. When Masjid Toronto hosted an open house after the hateful Anti-Islam protest occurred, I hoped that a mosque in Ottawa would do the same. So when your mosque organized “Open Doors, Open Heart”, I jumped at the chance.
When I went there, I wondered to myself what would occur. Being that I had visited other places of worship like gurdwaras, I assumed that there would be some protocol involved when visiting a mosque, particularly for the first time. So I did inquire on the event’s Facebook page regarding anything I should keep in mind, like taking my shoes off, washing my hands, etc. I searched through both the event’s Facebook page and the mosque’s website for more information. I saw that some local women politicians kept their head covered when visiting you mosque during Eid celebrations, so even though I knew it wouldn’t be required of me to do so at the open house, I thought it would be courteous nonetheless. It is, after all, a choice to wear the hijab, so I made the choice to keep my hair covered to pay respect. Goodness knows that you all are paid little respect as it is at times.
As I went on the tour, I realized that even though I respected Islam and its followers, I knew very little of it. Fortunately, I was willing to learn, and the tour guides were fantastic. I came in when noon prayers were starting and I remember thinking that it’s a rare privilege that a non-Muslim gets to witness that. The guides were very willing to explain the basics, like why there are lines on the carpet, the clocks with the five prayer times displayed, why the bathroom signs say “brother” and “sister”, why they wash before they pray, etc.
Afterwards, we were taken downstairs to where the Sunday School is taught. Major points for giving free copies of the Qur’an to the public, but probably the best moment for me was when the women attending were invited to try on the hijab. In my opinion, if there was one moment where I thought the public would be the most wary of, this was it. Thankfully, the women attending were game for it. The Syrian refugees who did the cooking certainly have future careers as chefs if they so choose, and the henna tattoo was the icing on the cake.
In the end, I met many strong, empowered Muslim women, and I was immersed one of the most loving and unconditionally welcoming environments ever. My advice to anyy mosque, not just yours, is don’t be afraid of hosting an open house more often, as there are much more people willing to learn about Islam with an open mind than you might think. For anyone else, embrace what you don’t understand, for the rewards you’ll reap will be far more numerous than you will ever imagine.