OTTAWA—A Muslim organization has launched a two-week outreach campaign across Canada in hopes of connecting local Muslim families with communities to challenge misconceptions “and bridge the gap of fear into love.”
“It is basically to connect Canadians with their fellow Muslim families,” said Imtiaz Ahmed, an imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Ottawa, one of the organizers.
“There are many reasons why we started this campaign. Among them is to bridge the gap and to remove negative perceptions created by Al-Quada and ISIS.”
Reports of mosques being vandalized in Cold Lake, Alberta, and Ottawa, among others, have made headlines since the ISIS conflict has expanded.
A recent report by The Canadian Press disclosed a secret briefing from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to the office of Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney that states CSIS had concerns over the rise of an online Canadian anti-Islam movement.
The Meet a Muslim Family campaign set up by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Islamic organization officially launched March 1 with local organizers opening mosques to non-Muslims. Local families are also hosting informal home gatherings to give people a chance to ask questions.
“Many Canadian families came to visit us and I invited local community and religious leaders,” said Ahmed.
“We had a representative from a reverend of the United Church and a bishop from the Catholic Church. They all came with their families. We had a good response. Many people came and some went on to say they appreciated the initiative,” said Ahmed.
“I have been speaking to members in Toronto, and they are overwhelmed with the positive response.”
The campaign is not limited to Ottawa and includes every Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Canada including in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, and Halifax. However, Ahmed says the response has extended beyond the initial 70 cities, with requests now coming in from smaller towns.
“I was told by a friend of mine that even they were getting calls from remote towns [from people] who wanted a meet with a Muslim family closest to their village or town. The response has been very good. I have been getting tweets about it. Some people are reaching out to our headquarters and asking to meet in Ottawa. Canadians have been amazing so far.”
This isn’t the first time Ahmadiyya Muslims have been active in these types of campaigns. The community has also helped organize interfaith conferences in cities with other religious leaders.
Although the campaign is slated to run for two weeks, the organizers hope for an ongoing level of contact between people.
“It is for two weeks and even if someone wants to visit we aren’t going to shut down the campaign. Our mosques are always open,” said Ahmed.
Kaven Baker-Voakes is a freelance reporter based in Ottawa.