Home » Toronto-area mosque speaks out after ‘false connections’ with Iran lead to vandalism, bomb threats

Toronto-area mosque speaks out after ‘false connections’ with Iran lead to vandalism, bomb threats

Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre targeted despite ‘zero affiliation with any government,’ member says

A Toronto-area mosque is speaking out after it says “false connections” have been drawn between it and the government of Iran, saying it has been vandalized and faced threats of bombing and assault.

The Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre in Thornhill, Ont., held a news conference together with the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) on Thursday, condemning what it described as the “violent and vile Islamophobia” directed against it.

Speaking during the news conference, Nadia Hasan, NCCM chief operating officer, outlined “a troubling series of events,” saying the mosque and larger Muslim community has been thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

“Islamophobic voices and forces have spent copious amounts of time falsely portraying the Mahdi Islamic Centre as a terrorist entity, an anti-woman organization or an agent of the government of Iran,” Hasan said.

‘Not politically involved whatsoever’: member

Nayereh Akbarzadeh, a member of the centre, said, “We have zero affiliation with any government and any political party, but still we are targeted.”

Akbarzadeh said based on the mosque’s constitution, it is committed to being “not politically involved whatsoever.”

Although Muslims recently marked the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, few congregants turned out worried for the ceremony, Akbarzadeh said. Many of the mosque’s members are older and worried they wouldn’t be able to run if the mosque were to be attacked, she said. 

According to Hasan, the centre has been “targeted” for some weeks now. The attacks began around the time unrest erupted in Iran after a woman died on Sept. 13 while in the custody of the regime’s morality police. Mahsa Amini, 22, had been arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s hijab law. 

Hasan provided the following examples of the “violent and vile Islamophobia recently directed against the centre,” which she said was established by Iranian-Canadian Muslims in 2004. 

  • The phrase “death to priests” was spray painted onto its walls.
  • Someone said that “it’s mandatory to bomb the mosque.”
  • Someone threatened to purposely contract COVID-19 and spit on the congregants.

“This has been devastating to witness,” Hasan said.

She added that the centre has a large and peaceful congregation that contributes to the social fabric of the Thornhill community, including a lot of children and elderly who are part of the membership.

‘Hate-motivated’ graffiti

In a news release Thursday afternoon, York Regional Police (YRP) said investigators are seeking a suspect and witnesses after reports of “hate-motivated graffiti” found at the Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre.

Police said a male suspect went to the centre at approximately 11:45 p.m. on Oct. 13 and spray painted three areas of the mosque with “derogatory, anti-Iranian language,” written in Persian, aimed toward the Iranian government.

Police gave the following description of the suspect:.

  • Approximately five-feet, 10-inches tall.
  • Thin to medium build.
  • Face covered, possibly with a bandanna.
  • Wearing a short jacket, baseball cap, jeans and light-coloured shoes.

Police say investigators are seeking help from the community to identify the suspect and are asking any witnesses, anyone with information or video surveillance footage in that area, to come forward.

Const. Amy Boudreau, YRP media relations officer, said it’s unfortunate when there’s a global event happening, local communities are being affected.

She warned that “any type of crime that is hate-motivated or targets any type of group” will be investigated

“There’s people in the community that are greatly affected when they’re targeted, whether it’s vandalism, hate speech or any of those types of things,” Boudreau said. 

“It has a very wide impact on our community and it won’t be tolerated in our region.”

Akbarzadeh said behaviours similar to what has been happening at the mosque might be understandable for Iranian people who have been “living under corruption, sanctions and oppression.” 

But she said, “here in Canada … we have the ability of just educating ourselves to be able to have peaceful dialogue and honestly teaching our children what real justice will look like.”

“This isn’t going to be happening if we do not educate ourselves and our children that we should be tolerant,” Akbarzadeh added.

Not isolated incidents, says national Muslim group

Meanwhile, Hasan said the attacks are not isolated incidents. 

“Up in Richmond Hill, MP Majid Jowhari was also labelled a terrorist. Some have called Muslim Toronto Police Service officers terrorists.”

CBC News has earlier reported that Jowhari has been previously accused of having worked with and accepted money from Iran’s government — claims he has characterized as “false and unfounded.”

“There have also been hateful rallies outside mosques in British Columbia, and Muslim students on campus are being harassed and threatened,” Hasan said.

Hasan also said research done by the NCCM shows more than 1,000 hateful messages online directed at Muslims in Canada in the past two weeks.

“These disgusting threats and actions have no place in Canada,” Hasan said. “An entire community and religion shouldn’t be demonized in this way due to the actions of some people across the world.”

Source: CBC