By Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
Shock. Distress. Anger. Outrage. How does one respond adequately to the terrorist attack on unsuspecting Muslims peacefully worshipping in the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand?
Or, for that matter, attacks on the law-abiding public in Canada, or any civilized country?
Following such assaults on freedom and dignity we unite in every way possible to demonstrate love, sympathy, solidarity and support for families, communities and countries impacted. But can we do more? I don’t know. However, such events force me to reflect and refocus my perspective based on my own community and experiences.
The day after the Christchurch attack I volunteered at the Museum of Surrey.
Two young women wearing hijabs leaned intently over a small weaving loom. A grandmotherly grey-haired woman was instructing them on the fine art of elementary weaving. Heads inches apart, the three were engrossed in their shared task.
Nearby a crafter, surrounded by Asian children, helped little fingers master the intricate art of Celtic Knotwork. The clearly delighted children proudly showed their “heart” work off to their nearby parents.
Despite large crowds (including very young children), a quiet respectfulness prevailed in the “We Are Kwantlen” exhibit in the new Indigenous Hall. A father read aloud to his son, “We are a fact, not an artifact. We are here and have always been here.” Words written by respected Kwantlen elder Cheryl Gabriel.
Last year I joined over 200 women at the Annual Women’s Interfaith Symposium at the Baitur Rahman Mosque in Delta. Hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, featured guest speakers represented Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Hinduism, the Bahá’í Faith and Judaism. A panel included Coast Salish Snuneymuxw and Cowichan First Nations Elder Roberta Price, Delta Coun. Lois Jackson and Delta Police Department school liaison program supervisor Sgt. Cathy Geddes. The focus was to discuss the role of women in raising the next generation.
After respectfully listening to each speaker explain their beliefs and customs, women mingled over a sumptuous lunch.
“This is delicious! How can you do it all for free?” I asked an organizer as she efficiently replenished rapidly vanishing trays of steaming curries, rice and desserts.
“We budget for it annually,” she replied, adding, “Thankfully the men help us out in the kitchen! Are you finding everything? Are you getting enough to eat?”
I told her I’d been invited by guest speaker Rev. Lori Megley-Best from Cloverdale United Church and had been made very welcome by everyone throughout the event.
As I drove away, my Malaysian tour guide friend, Azlina Mohidin, came to mind.
Azlina, a devout Muslim, showed us the highlights of Kuala Lumpur, and also discussed customs and religion.
One day, while walking through a bustling, dusty market, she suddenly stopped, turned to me, and asked, “Ursula, why can’t we all just be friends?”
I still don’t know the answer to Azlina’s question. However, I am convinced that individuals and organizations like those mentioned above go a long way to combating fear, anger and resentment. Relating to this, I also applaud New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s pro-active vow to change the gun laws, particularly relating to private ownership of semi-automatic rifles.
We can sing “We shall overcome,” but isn’t it random acts of kindness, community outreach and average citizens who really give peace a chance?
Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a travel journalist and photographer. She has travelled in New Zealand and grieves with all those affected by this tragedy.