‘We will not be intimidated’: Mosque officials want help from province, feds after Markham incident

The Islamic Society of Markham is calling on the government to take action after worshippers were targeted in a suspected hate crime. Shauna Hunt with the latest on the investigation.

By Michael Talbot

Officials at a Markham mosque that was targeted in an alleged hate-motivated incident last week are asking the provincial and federal governments for help to stamp out Islamophobia and make places of worship safer.

The president of the Islamic Society of Markham, Qasir Nasir Khan, urged Premier Doug Ford to expedite legislation that would expand educational resources to combat Islamophobia and create a  watchdog to review hate crime investigations.

Khan also wants the federal government to increase funding that would allow at-risk places of worship to pay for third party security.

“We need to see the federal security infrastructure program expanded,” Khan said, adding that in its current form it’s difficult to apply for and “takes months to process.”

A 28-year-old man was arrested in Toronto on Friday after he allegedly attended the Markham mosque during morning prayers and tore a copy of the Qur’an while directing racist and Islamophobic rants toward worshippers.

York Regional Police arrested Sharan Karunakaran and charged him with uttering threats, assault with a weapon, and dangerous driving, in connection to the incident.

According to officials, the centre on Denison Street was much busier than usual due to Ramadan.

Sharan Karunakaran

Peel police say 28-year-old Sharan Karunakaran has been charged with uttering threats, assault with a weapon, and dangerous driving. PRP/HO

Khan said the man, who is “not of our faith” also threatened to burn the mosque down and tried to ram congregants with his vehicle.

“Most concerningly he tried to ram our congregants with his vehicle,” Khan said. “It was shocking. It could have resulted in serious injury or even fatalities.”

“Our communities have reasons to feel afraid. Make no mistake, we could have been at a funeral today.”

Khan said the mosque’s volunteer security team sprung to action and “did incredible work to make sure that everyone was safe,” but added “we shouldn’t have to have one (a volunteer security team).

“We will not be intimidated,” he added.

The local member of Parliament, Trade Minister Mary Ng, says she was “deeply disturbed” to learn of the alleged attack.

In an update Monday, police said they’re investigating the suspect’s online presence, but so far have not determined an exact motive.

They are also investigating an incident at a Scarborough mosque earlier the same morning involving the same suspect.

“We are aware that Toronto police did have an interaction with our suspect (in Scarborough) on the morning of the event that took place here (in Markham),” police said.

In that incident, Administrator and Imam at Central Mosque Scarborough, Wail Khan, said a man was driving in circles at the mosque and came close to hitting worshippers with his vehicle.

“I got a call from one of the congregants and he said there is a vehicle that’s in the parking lot and he’s driving very carelessly and almost hitting someone, but just before hitting the person he is pressing the brakes and stopping,” he explained.

Khan said police were called, but they let the man go after briefly speaking with him on scene.

“Police need to take these cases more seriously in terms of places of worship,” he said.

“We hope there can be more security and patrolling to make the congregants feel safe when they come to pray.

Nadia Hasan of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said these are just the latest in a series of ongoing incidents that have Muslims on edge.

“What happened here last week was extremely distressing especially during the holy month of Ramadan where many Muslims, families and elders gather for collective acts of worship.

“The reality is that this instance is part of a broader problem of increasing hate crimes in Canada and an intensification of Islamophobic rhetoric.”

“This cannot go on.”

With files from John Marchesan and The Canadian Press

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