Pray for Aleppo: Mosques hold community prayer for refugees fleeing Syrian city

As the evacuation of eastern Aleppo continues to unfold Thursday, two mosques are inviting all Winnipeggers to come together in solidarity with the Syrian refugees.

The United Nations believes there are as many as 30,000 people still living in eastern Aleppo, which is held by rebels. A recent ceasefire is allowing them to flee the conflict-torn area.

One of the Winnipeg event organizers, Warda Ahmed, said she was moved to hold a prayer night after watching online videos made by residents in Aleppo in recent days on social media, talking about their fears and pleading for their lives.

"Sharing … how they feel the world has failed them," said Ahmed.

She felt overwhelmed by guilt, she said, and began thinking of what she could do.

"We just started to wonder what we could do that could impact immediately, that could make us feel in some way like we've done something," said Ahmed.

Ahmed said she knew of mosques in the United States that were organizing special prayer nights, so she began organizing something similar here.

"Within hours we had two mosques willing to host a special prayer night," said Ahmed.

Personal connection

Ahmed, who is originally from Somalia, is a refugee herself and said Syria holds a special place in her heart as the country welcomed many refugees from her homeland.

"Back in the day when Somalia went initially into the civil war and we went through the first phase of a refugee crisis, Syria was one of the first countries that opened its doors," she said.

"Even though I was not raised in Syria, I have family and friends who were born and raised in Syria and consider themselves more Syrian than Somali."

She said many Canadians share her experience as a refugee or come from a community that has dealt with the effects of oppression, violence and genocide.

"As Canadians collectively understand what it is to face the situation Syrians are facing today," she said, "we want to make sure that we don't do this prayer alone. We wanted this to be a place where we all come together as a community."

All Winnipeggers are welcome to attend and for those who are non-religious or not comfortable praying, there will be space to stand in solidarity.

"We just want to bring the rest of our Canadian brothers and sisters together to stand together. Mosques are very open and very welcoming to everyone."

The prayer night Thursday begins at 8 p.m. at the Winnipeg Central Mosque and the Winnipeg Grand Mosque.