The Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre in Markham, Ontario was vandalized Thursday, October 13th in an illegal act that targeted Muslim Iranians who attend the mosque as a place of worship. The vandalism occurred the night before the community’s celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, one of the most highly attended annual events.
The red writings are in Farsi and read, “death to the Islamic Republic,” “death to Khamenei,” and “death to Mullahs.” The mosque’s board of directors issued a statement on Sunday reiterating that the center is an independent Canadian charitable organization with no ties to any government entity, but made no public statements about the vandalism.
The mosque’s board director stated in an interview that the police are pursuing the vandalism case in an ongoing investigation. “This event will definitely be addressed in accordance with the law, but we are mostly after absolving ourselves from the false accusations made against the center. They [the vandals] committed a wrong act for sure, and we hope that we will not witness such events in the future.”
The police have not yet published a press release on the case.
Community members expressed both concern and anger over the illegal act. Ali Raeisdanaei, an executive member of the mosque’s youth group, explained that “this is a hate crime. In any way that you look at it, someone has trespassed into our property and has vandalized a religious site, and has undignified a religious center. I think that is a very serious crime in a democracy like Canada, and it should not just be tolerated.”
Saba Saeidi, another youth executive, said such hateful acts create an unsafe atmosphere within the community. “It’s important for us that people who enter our community feel safe and welcome. These kinds of events disrupt that goal and create a hostile environment,” she said.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, deliberate vandalism is a criminal offense and any individual found guilty of it can be charged and liable to imprisonment. If the vandalism was in relation to religious property and motivated by bias or prejudice, the individual is guilty of an indictable offense that may result in up to ten years of imprisonment.
This vandalism case comes amidst ongoing protests in Iran following Mahsa Amini’s death. Iranians in many major cities in Europe and North America also came out in protest, but what initially started as support for women’s freedom in Iran ironically transformed into the infringement on Muslims’ religious freedom in the West.
The turning point came when protests gave rise to threats, hate speech, and violence against Muslims living and practicing their religion in Western states. In fact, Iranians were not the only targeted groups; Muslims of several ethnicities experienced these threats in various forms. One such example was a non-Iranian Muslim man in London who was physically attacked by a group of Iranian rioters as he was leaving the Islamic Centre of England. The man was defending himself with his hands as two police officers on the scene failed to protect him from the verbal and physical assaults.
This is also not the first Islamophobic incident that occurred at Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre. Two weeks ago, about 20 Iranians stood in front of the mosque’s property and shouted profanities at attendees who were leaving a program. Community members showed no reaction to the offensive words, and a video taken by one of the Iranian protesters circulated on social media but was quickly taken down after being reported for harassment and bullying.
Iranian protests in Toronto have also included defamatory and slanderous statements made against Muslim scholars, with one poster reading “how did a murderer and a terrorist get to enter Canada?”
These Iranian groups have a track record of targeting many Islamic gatherings in the past. The famous “March for Hussain,” a purely religious event that that takes place annually in Toronto on Ashura, witnesses anti-Islam hate speech and threats every year from radical Iranian-Canadians who confront Shia Muslim participants with vulgarity and violence.
This history of Islamophobic attacks is not new to Muslims in Toronto, but recent Iran protests seem to have given Iranian extremists in Canada a blank check to harass Muslims and their sacred symbols without facing consequences.
These riots and acts of hateful Islamophobia reveal another face of the individuals who claim to be engaging in peaceful protests in support of the Iranian women. By doing this, Iranian extremists are delegitimizing their own calls for freedom and dignity by attacking the religious and human rights of Muslims practicing their faith in the West.
The greatest irony in these recent events is that protestors who claim to be defending freedom and condemning violence in Iran are now attacking and harassing Muslims who have every right to safely practice their religion in public and private. This grave contradiction has not gone unnoticed among Muslims of various cultural backgrounds, who are now asking an important question: which part of human rights and freedom allows for such acts of hate and Islamophobia, and why are these individuals not being held accountable under the rule of law?
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