Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson, Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, and Perth-Wellington MP John Nater joined Imam Omar Alshehri and the male members of his congregation to break fast Saturday evening during the holy month of Ramadan.
This year, Ramadan stretches from May 26 to June 24, and it involves daily fasting from dawn to sunset, an increase in charity and an increase in prayer to commemorate the first revelation of the Quaran to Muhammed, according to Islamic belief.
On Saturday evening, as Muslim residents gathered at the Stratford Mosque to break their daily fast with a meal known as the iftar, they were joined by three notable guests – Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson, Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, and Perth-Wellington MP John Nater.
The trio of politicians joined Imam Omar Alshehri in his office for brief crash course on the Muslim holiday, before being warmly welcomed into the mosque’s upper prayer hall, where the male members of Alshehri’s congregation were busy serving the first course for the iftar. Downstairs, as is a Muslim tradition, the female members of the congregation were doing the same.
After enjoying an appetizer of dates, sliced watermelon spiced with fresh basil leaves, chicken shawarma and a few other items, Nater, Pettapiece and Mathieson sat in on the congregation’s opening prayer.
As the prayer ended, the Mosque’s special guests were invited to take first crack at the plethora of food laid out for the main meal of the iftar. As they ate, the politicians chatted with local parishioners and Muslim guests from as far as London and Kitchener/Waterloo about everything from their work and their personal life to the renovations planned for the Stratford Mosque.
“It’s an honour to join you and it is an honour to break fast with you this evening,” Nater said as he addressed those gathered after dinner. “…Truly, I think that as Canadians and as human beings it’s always so important that we learn about our friends and our neighbours and our society. When we know each other, we truly become friends, we become neighbours, and we can break down those barriers, and break down those divisions that may exist between us and truly learn more about ourselves and about each other.”
In hopes of building a strong relationship with the Muslim community, Nater extended an offer of assistance to any Muslim living in Perth-Wellington, should they need it.
“This is the second time I’ve been here,” Pettapiece began. “The first was to deliver a message that we passed a resolution in the (Ontario) House (of Legislature) against Islamophobia. Certainly this country is known for its welcoming of people from other countries and we want to keep up that tradition.
“If I go back in my history, I’m six generations in Canada, so you can imagine when we first came from Europe, form Ireland, what we faced when my ancestors cleared the land and certainly having never seen Native people.”
Finally, Mathieson stepped up to address the congregation in what was his first visit to the Stratford Mosque.
“I have come to have great appreciation for the Muslim faith. Many of the Syrian refugee families that have come to our community came forward and took that, what I call a trip, to a new country, to a small community, and I can’t imagine how daunting that is to bring 10 kids, 13 kids, to a new community,” Mathieson said.
“But Imam Omar, his friends from Kitchener, the deputy Imams here have done a great job of welcoming them and making sure the Muslim faith comes with them. And Stratford is a very tolerant community. I want you to know that when we decided we wanted to reach out and help, there was over $200,000 raised to sponsor those families within three months. That came from Christian churches within our community, it came from citizens and businesses who wanted to make sure we welcomed you.”
Mathieson also touched on the challenges faced by both Muslims in Stratford and those living in every community across the country.
“I hate to have to say this, but sometimes people are not as tolerant and respectful as they should be. Your religious beliefs, your faith, is just as important to you as theirs’ is to them. You have my pledge, as well as John and Randy’s, I’m sure, that we will always continue to fight for your faith, for your rights, and to make sure that you feel welcome within our community,” he said.
Following the politicians’ remarks, Alshehri shared stories of charity, success and of tolerance within the Muslim community, before thanking the evening’s hosts -- a brother and sister team who prepared much of the food for the iftar.
“It means a lot (that Nater, Pettapiece and Mathieson were here). It sends a message to the public and to the Muslims that government and Muslims are talking to each other, are working together in order to make Canada safer for everybody,” Alshehri said. “It’s very symbolic.”