Peterborough police are investigating a case of arson at the city's only mosque, an act that the president of the local Muslim association says was a "clearly a hate crime."
The fire broke out at the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association's mosque around 11 p.m. Saturday, police said. No one was inside the Masjid Al-Salaam Mosque at the time.
But association president Kenzu Abdella said members of the congregation had been inside 784 Parkhill Rd. just an hour before the fire broke out there, celebrating the birth of a new baby.
"The scare for people is that what if this had happened while we were in there?" he said Sunday. "So there's a bit of uneasiness in the community."
Abdella said the Muslim congregation was devastated by the arson as members have placed roots in the community and integrated into the surrounding neighbourhoods.
The mosque holds regular open houses that are attended by churchgoers and politicians. They also make regular donations to the local food bank, according to Abdella.
'Out of nowhere'
"So to us, this is out of nowhere," he said. "Even when we were hearing all the things that are happening around the world, it never occurred to us that this could happen in our community."
There have concerns that the terrorist attacks Friday in Paris could incite a rise of Islamaphobia or retaliatory violence around the world.
Abdella said since the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association was founded in 1994, it has only been targeted by criminals once before. After the 9/11 terror attacks, the previous building had its windows smashed out.
But Abdella noted local churches raised funds to replace them, something that was already happening again Sunday. A community group has also begun a crowdfunding campaign that had raised $1,440 by Sunday afternoon.
"So it's very positive in that way," he said.
Fire set intentionally
The community does not know where they will go for their prayers, which they observe fives times each day.
Initially, Abdella said they had hoped to open the building by the afternoon, but quickly realized that the $80,000 in smoke damage would make that impossible in the near future.
"It doesn't look good at all, it's all smoked out," Abdella said after walking through the building Sunday morning.
The provincial fire marshal ruled that the blaze was set deliberately, according to a Peterborough police spokesman.
Sgt. Tim Millard said police will not be releasing more information until the fire marshal's office finishes its probe.
The Liberal MP for Peterborough-Kawartha Maryam Monsef said she was thinking of those displaced by the fire Saturday night.
The Democratic Institutions Minister added she wanted to wait for the full results of the police investigation before commenting further.
"I know the residents of Peterborough-Kawartha will be as upset about this as I am," Monsef said in a statement. "Together, we will ... demonstrate that these sorts of incidents are in no way reflective of our community as a whole."