On Nov. 15, 2015, residents of Peterborough, Ontario woke up to the kind of news that makes your heart sink.
A mosque — the only one in the community — was burned down. Though the motive for the attack is still unclear, police have declared that the fire was set intentionally, and the blaze is being investigated as a potential hate crime.
Since the Paris attacks, hostility towards Muslims has become far more visible in Europe and North America.
The U.K. has experienced a huge spike in attacks against Muslims. Many U.S. presidential candidates have called for halting the flow of Syrian refugees into the country — especially if they’re not Christian. Some have gone so far as to propose shutting down mosques and have insinuated that American Muslims cheered on the 9/11 attacks.
But residents of Peterborough refused to give into suspicion and fear and were determined to do something to help their neighbors rebuild.
“Damages are estimated to exceed $80K. We encourage members of the community, of all or no faiths, to help the Muslim community restore their place of worship,” Peterborough resident Duane Rouselle wrote on a fundraising page he created.
Rouselle told Upworthy that he donated all he had — the 17 cents in his bank account.
“When I heard the news — I heard it from somebody who lived beside the Mosque, before it hit the news — I felt compelled to do something, anything,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The fundraiser hit its $80,000 goal before the first day was over.
And the donations kept pouring in. As of Nov. 23, 2015, the community had raised over $110,000 to help rebuild the mosque.
The community didn’t just rally to raise money.
Other religious groups in the city immediately stepped up to offer displaced members of the mosque space to gather, worship, and pray.
“There are no words to describe how amazing our community has represented itself as a giving, loving, peaceful and supportive community,” Rouselle wrote.
The mosque will be able to rebuild, and the Peterborough community deserves massive congratulations for living up to its highest ideals.
In the wake of a terrible tragedy, it’s natural — and understandable — to be afraid. It’s easy to look at the perpetrators of unspeakable violence and draw quick, and not always accurate, conclusions about people who look like them.
“Our acts of kindness should not conceal the very real threats that people have to live with on a daily basis,” Rouselle wrote in his e-mail. And he’s right.
It’s important to stand up for the least empowered members of our communities — even when we don’t know them that well, or disagree with them.
In the wake of the positive press, some have pointed to the Peterborough imam’s retrograde views on marriage and women’s rights. And it’s OK to be offended by them! But they’re not a reason to not help a community. And they certainly don’t justify what happened to the mosque.
Far too often, we turn to people in our communities who look different, think differently, pray differently and think, “You are other,” and “We’re afraid of you.” And we turn our backs.
Peterborough didn’t. They said, “You are all one of us. And we’ve got your back.”
We could all stand to learn from them.
From Upworthy, Eric March