An investigation into a late-night blaze at Peterborough’s only mosque Saturday has determined that the fire was deliberately set.
Firefighters responded to the fire at Masjid Al-Salaam at about 11 p.m. after receiving a call from a neighbor.
They quickly confined the fire to the main floor of the Parkhill Rd. W and Crowley Cres. building.
No one was injured in the fire.
The building suffered heavy smoke damage inside, with little damage evident outside. Damage is estimated at $80,000, fire officials said.
The Ontario Fire Marshall (OFM) determined the fire was deliberately set, police stated Sunday.
Purchased in 2001, the mosque is run by the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association (KMRA).
“The police are treating it as a hate crime, as far as we know, but we don’t have any more details,” said Kenzu Abdella, KMRA president.
Abdella, KMRA vice president Zahid Sultan and a few other members gathered outside the mosque Sunday as city police, Peterborough Fire Services and the OFM investigated.
Al-Salaam is the only mosque in the Kawarthas and has 200 members.
About a half an hour before the fire, nearly 70 members were inside celebrating the birth of a young couple’s baby.
“Mothers with little kids were there,” said Abdella.
Adbella said the mosque hasn’t ever had a threat before and has a good relationship with the community.
“So it’s a shock and very upsetting for us this has happened and the (Muslim) community is quite concerned about what this could mean,” he said.
With ISIS claiming Friday’s attack on Paris, killing more than 120 people, Abdella and Sultan said the fire set at Al-Salaam could be connected.
“It has come across our mind that it could be, but we don’t know,” said Abdella.
“It’s too premature to say anything at this time,” said Sultan.
Whatever the motivation, Abdella said the incident is very concerning.
“It’s horrible, it’s very upsetting. It’s a big concern. You are safe one moment and then all of a sudden you have to worry about what’s going to happen,” Abdella said.
During the day, a school teaching Islam is run out of Al-Salaam. “If it had happened during the daytime when so many kids are inside, it would be disastrous,” said Sultan.
The school and daily prayers will be put on hold until the damage is repaired.
Muslims pray five times a day, and many go the mosque for their prayers. There’s also a congregational prayer held at Al-Salaam every Friday.
“For Muslims, a mosque is very important. It’s a place where we worship,” said Abdella.
Police didn’t release any further details Sunday, other than to say offences committed against a place of worship are taken very seriously.
Abdella said he was encouraged by the way the police are handling the investigation.
“They’re taking it very seriously, and there’s an open line of communication there, updating us on a regular basis, so in that sense, we’re comforted by that,” he said.
Meanwhile, St. John’s Anglican Church is collecting funds for KMRA to help Alsalaam back on its feet as soon as possible.
Bonnie Williams, St. John’s warden, said it’s a way to show support and God’s love. “In terms of the faith communities and the community of Peterborough, we have to support the Muslim community and be an inclusive community,” said Williams.
Donations can be dropped off at the St. John’s office. Call 705-745-7624 for more information.
A Facebook group has been set up in support of the mosque.
Mayor Daryl Bennett released a statement Sunday, saying if the fire is found be a hate crime, it in no way represents the feelings of the community.
“Attacking a place of worship is a despicable act,” he wrote, adding Masjid Al-Salaam means Mosque of Peace.
“The faith communities are the cornerstones of our city, contributing to the charitable organization and helping those who are less fortunate,” Bennett stated. “I look forward to the re-opening of Masjid Al-Salaam.”
MP Maryam Monsef also issued a statement, saying it’s important to gather all the facts before commenting further.
“I wish to take this moment to remind us all that Peterborough-Kawartha is a warm and generous community. We have a proud history as a welcoming and friendly place to live, just as it was when my family arrived here 20 years ago,” she states. “I know that the residents of Peterborough-Kawartha will be as upset as I am about this incident, and that together we will continue to demonstrate that these sorts of incidents are in no way reflective of our community as a whole.”
Police are asking anyone with information to contact police at 705-876-1122 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.