While Edmonton’s Somali community voiced its rejection of violence in the aftermath of the Sept. 30 knife and vehicle attack, it was also the catalyst for a demonstration of togetherness and inclusion.

Edmontonians responded in kind.

“When the recent incident took place, many Somalis came to me. They were very concerned,” Habiba Abdulle, member of the Alberta Somali Community Centre, told a large audience at the Unity Celebration. “But I knew they were going to be okay.”

Abdulle’s message was part of a public gathering at city hall on Oct. 27 to celebrate unity and diversity. The evening included African and Middle Eastern cuisine, choir performances by Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, and Indigenous dance performances. Edmonton’s Safety Summit Committee organized the evening, with Ahmed Abdulkadir, executive director of Ogaden Somali Community of Alberta (OSCAR), co-leading it.

“I’m definitely there to join in, to show solidarity when these events happen,” said Amira Shousha, a post-secondary student originally from Egypt.  “I came to be an example to our community, to show unity and respect.”

Rayanne Elkhatib (left) a Palestinian student living in Edmonton, attended the Unity Celebration with her friend, Amira Shousha, originally from Egypt. | Kate Wilson

Rayanne Elkhatib, a Palestinian high school student, said attending these events is a positive way to deflate potential escalation of violence.

“I believe it’s really important, it develops understanding,” said Elkhatib.

At the podium, representatives of the city, provincial and federal governments, police, faith centres, and Edmonton’s Somali and Muslim community expressed a common theme: that Edmontonians unite when confronted with an event like the one on Sept. 30.

Our city did not react the same as other cities, emphasized David Eggen, Alberta’s Minister of Education.

“In Edmonton we don’t tolerate each other. We accept each other and we know each other,” he said.

Members of Edmonton’s faith community spoke at the Unity Celebration. Left to right: Pastor Phillip Telfer of Norwood Wesleyan Church; Ed Major of Hope Mission; Imam Owais, youth worker at Al Rashid Mosque, and Rev. Makola Nanda, abbot of Samatha Vipassana Meditation Centre. | Kate Wilson

Within hours of the events on Sept. 30, police, politicians, and Somali and Muslim leaders called for solidarity. Abdulkadir said some Muslim women were badgered with threats, such as name calling and blaming.

Abdulkadir said it’s natural for people to bond when violence happens, and it’s important to make use of that impulse to defuse further violence.

“What we’re preaching is it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, it’s human. All communities, when violence happens, try to come together,” said Abdulkadir.

Nicholas Pybus, who works at the Norwood Wesleyan Church, said all community members share a common ground. | Kate Wilson

Attendee Nicholas Pybus, who works at the Norwood Wesleyan Church, said communities can find unity by seeking common ground within the common good.

“There are some standards that can be called the common good,” he said. “Helping each other, supporting one another in whatever our walk of life. It’s about everyone.”

Abdulkabir said one way to deflate potential confrontation is to be aware of your own perspective and listening. This method, he explained, is a direct entry to mutual respect.

“If you are not conscious of what you’re saying, it defeats the purpose,” stressed Abdulkadir. “But if you’re willing to learn, to listen, then we can talk.”

Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, the suspect accused of the Sept. 30 attack, is facing multiple charges. A judge has also ordered him to complete psychiatric assessments to determine if he is fit to stand trial and to be held criminally responsible.

Featured Image: (Left) Peggy Richardson, an elder originally from Kugluktuk, Nunavut, gave a prayer of thanks in Inuinnaqtun at the Unity Celebration. Her daughter Naomi Atatahak is on the right. | Kate Wilson