Imam Hassan Guillet surprised mourners at a funeral for three victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting which left 6 dead and several others wounded, some critically, by expressing empathy for the shooter himself. His eulogy was praised online by many in the days following, including an appreciative tweet by no less than JK Rowling.
Imam Guillet opened his eulogy, delivered on Friday, this way:
“We are here to celebrate Khaled, Aboubaker, Abdelkrim, Azzedine, Mamadou, Ibrahima,” Guillet said. “We are going to have a prayer for those who could not finish their prayers. We pray for them.” The Imam went on pointedly to tell the audience that the victims, who were immigrants to Canada, “chose Quebec to live in, and they chose the Canadian passport. It is up to the society to choose them the same way they have chosen this society.”
After mourning the failure of Canadian society to protect the victims, but saying it was “not too late” to protect others, the Imam’s eulogy took an impressive turn, which won widespread press coverage in Canada:
“Did I go through the complete list of victims? No,” he continued. “There is one victim. None of us want [to] talk about him. But given my age, I have the courage to say it. This victim, his name is Alexandre Bissonnette.”
“Alexandre, before being a killer he was a victim himself,” Guillet said to those gathered the funeral, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Before planting his bullets in the heads of his victims, somebody planted ideas more dangerous than the bullets in his head.”
These last comments led to excerpts from the eulogy being tweeted by JK Rowling to her 10 million followers, who called them “extraordinary and humane words.”
Hassan Guillet, 64, says he didn’t prepare his speech, but simply spoke from the heart. He has been lauded in Canada widely for his message that the man accused of the shootings is himself a victim of hate, and that people should not seek revenge for the crime: “Revenge will do nothing,” the Imam said.
Hassan Guillet came to Canada from Lebanon in 1974 and is now retired from the aerospace industry. A spokesman for the Quebec Council of Imams, 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 has said he thinks he was chosen for the funeral because of his gentle style. “We don’t have enemies”, the Imam commented in the eulogy, “We have some people who don’t know us.”
Guillet did not mince words about his opinion over where the true guilt lay, however: “This little kid didn’t wake up in the morning and say ‘Hey guys instead of going to have a picnic or watching the Canadians, I will go kill some people in the mosque.’ It doesn’t happen that way. Day after day, week after week, month after month, certain politicians unfortunately, and certain reporters unfortunately, and certain media were poisoning our atmosphere.”
Alexandre Bissonnette, who is reportedly a fan of Marine LePen and the alt-right, had expressed fears during a Facebook exchange the day before the attack that the white race would be marginalized by immigration, a friend of the shooting suspect told the CBC.
Bissonnette has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder following Jan 29’s shooting, which left, according to the Imam, 17 orphans and six widows.
Matthew Gindin is a journalist, educator and freelance writer located in Vancouver, BC. He is the Pacific Correspondent for the Canadian Jewish News, writes regularly for the Forward and the Jewish Independent and has been published in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Religion Dispatches, Kveller, Situate Magazine, and elsewhere. He also writes on Medium from time to time.