April 22, 2016 - 7:45 AM
You don’t have to be in Kamloops long to have a big impact on our community and Imam Mazhar Mahmood is a great example of someone who has had a large impact in a short amount of time.
For the last two years, the Imam has served Kamloops and the Ayesha Mosque located in Knutsford. At the end of May, the Imam’s contract with the Ayesha Mosque is over and he will be leaving Kamloops. As much as he has been a leader for local Muslims, he has been leader in the broader community, and with his departure, he will be missed.
I first meet Imam Mahmood through Twitter. As soon as he arrived in Kamloops, he started to tweet out about Kamloops happenings. At first, the two of us exchanged tweets. But then we made plans to meet for coffee. Since then, every few months we have made time to meet. Some of our discussions are rooted in local issues. Other times, we’ve talked about world affairs.
I had never been to a mosque during a worship service before Imam Mahmood. And so the Imam invited me, and one Friday I attended. The Imam provided a warm welcome to me and my friend who attended. I know he has extended the invitation to many others, including many local politicians of all stripes.
I’m not the only one who has connected with Imam Mahmood during his time in Kamloops. For example, he has strong relationships with some of the Christian pastors in Kamloops as well. With a Lutheran pastor he hosted an ‘Ask a Pastor, Ask an Imam’ table at Thompson Rivers University once a week to give students a chance to find out differences between the two faiths.
In recent years, many, including some in the media, have equated Islam with terrorism, and all Muslims as terrorists. Imam Mahmood never shied away from speaking to the media after a terrorist attack to explain the tenets of Islam, and how terrorism goes against what Muslims believe. The Imam made himself available to the media.
Imam Mahmood grew up in Toronto (so I’ll forgive him for being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan) and it must have been quite a change for him to be living at the mosque in Knutsford, looking out on the cattle grazing in the grasslands. When he first arrived, a lot of his tweets were of beautiful scenes outside his window. Just like rest of us, he must have gotten used to the beauty of Kamloops, because he posted fewer pictures of the scenery as time went on.
Imam Mahmood is in his late 20’s or early 30’s, which may be why Twitter has been something he has used readily to connect to others in Kamloops. But whether it is Twitter, an old-fashioned newspaper interview, or sitting behind a table meeting students at TRU, Imam Mahmood has gone out of his way to connect with people in Kamloops.
Before Imam Mahmood had arrived in Kamloops, I had not visited the Ayesha Mosque or spoken to an Imam. I had heard talking heads from Toronto or New York reacting to terrorist attacks, but not someone from the Kamloops Muslim community. It was refreshing to have a voice from Kamloops who could speak from a Kamloops perspective on what being Muslim means.
It’s can’t be easy to be a Muslim these days, when mosques in Cold Lake, Peterborough, and other locations are attacked. When south of the border there is talk of keeping Muslims out of the US. And when many equate terrorism to Islam. Despite this, Imam Mahmood created positive energy in Kamloops for Muslims and non-Muslims to coexist.
Whenever I met with Imam Mahmood, he wanted to discuss ways of building bridges and understanding between different people in Kamloops.
Wherever Imam Mahmood ends up, I am sure he will continue to Tweet, engage with the media, and connect with people in the broader community. I wish him well, and hope he comes back to Kamloops for a visit. He made a big impact in his short time in Kamloops.
— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016