An imam who spoke at the funerals for three mosque shooting victims says he believes his words have become popular on social media because his message came from the heart.
Hassan Guillet, 64, says he didn’t even prepare his speech, which has been lauded for its message that the man accused of the shooting in Quebec City last week is himself a victim of hate, and that people shouldn’t seek revenge for the crime.
“People could see that the man standing in front of them is an honest man, a sincere man and a sad man and is talking his pain. I think it was apparent,” Guillet said in an interview Sunday about the speech he delivered Friday.
“When I was talking, I saw the tears on the face of our prime minister, Mr. Trudeau, and on the face of our premier, Philippe (Couillard), on the face of the mayor of Quebec (City).”
“I was touched.”
Stories about the speech have since appeared on the social media feeds of people around the globe, including some celebrities.
“The extraordinary and humane words of Imam Hassan Guillet, at the funeral for the victims of the Quebec massacre,” J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, tweeted along with a link to a transcript of the speech.
Guillet, who came to Canada from Lebanon in 1974 and is now retired from the aerospace industry, said he was too busy to prepare for the speech leading up to the funerals. As a spokesman for the province’s council of imams, he hadn’t had a lot of time since the shootings happened last Sunday night.
The tragic evening began happily for Guillet, with a dinner in his home to celebrate his son’s birthday. But then his son got a message on his phone about the shooting. Guillet’s own phone began to ring from members of the Muslim community. They wanted to know what was going on, but at that point he didn’t know much more than they did.
Six men died and 19 others were injured when a gunman stormed the mosque in Quebec City and opened fire on men who were attending evening prayer.
Guillet said he believes he was chosen to speak because the community wanted someone to convey its concerns and pain without being aggressive or shouting. Muslims in Quebec know him for an orchard he runs in Saint-Remi where he grows apples, berries, figs and other fruit and hosts picnics and Ramadan events.
He told the gathering that the victims were the dead, the injured, the witnesses, Quebecers and Canadians –but also the man accused of murder.
“Before shooting bullets into the heads of his victims, somebody planted ideas, more dangerous than the bullets, in his head,” Guillet said at the event.
The suspect, Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, faces six counts of first-degree murder and five of attempted murder using a restricted firearm. He’ll appear before a judge Feb. 21 to face the allegations, which have not been proven in court.
Guillet also told Friday’s service that he hopes the shooting is the last of its kind.
Guillet said Sunday he’s thankful for Rowling’s praise. His daughter called tell him about it, and he said it has given him a new, younger audience.
“Mainly I was in contact with the older generation, but with what Mrs. Rowling did, she gave me a new audience which is the Harry Potter generation,” Guillet said.