11/11/2014 03:36 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST

Montrealers making their mark: Fatimah Burke Mughal

Once a month, CBC journalist Sudha Krishnan brings you the stories of Montrealers making a difference. They not only have something to say about what's happening in their communities, they take action. They are Montrealers making their mark.

A few weeks before the shooting and fatal-hit-and run that claimed the lives of two Canadian soldiers, Fatimah Burke Mughal let me know the group she founded, the Purple Hope Project, would be handing out food to the needy.

The Saint-Laurent native and her volunteers wear purple hijabs as they distribute food to Montreal’s homeless.

She's been homeless herself and giving back has become a central principle in her life. 

“I like the Five Pillars of Islam because charity is really stressed,” said Burke Mughal.

When I told her a reporter would be covering the story, she took to Facebook.  

“InshaALLAH, We will be on the 11 o’clock news tonight, InshaALLAH,”  her post read.

 “The timing was unbelievably good,” she said.

It was good,  for a few hours at least.

Less than a day after the story of Burke Mughal’s Purple Hope Project ran on CBC Montreal, a story that unfolded in our backyard became international news.

A soldier, Patrice Vincent, was run down and killed in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

“Anytime I hear a crime happening, I say, ‘Oh!  Please don’t let it be a Muslim.’ It’s scary,” Burke Mughal said.

She learned, as we did, that the assailant had converted to Islam and was on a watch list of suspected extremists.

 “I felt sick to my stomach,” Burke Mughal said.

Two days later another attack another soldier killed. The assailant? Another young convert to Islam who may have been radicalized.

Convert to Islam

I’ve been wanting to tell Burke Mughal’s story for a while now. 

Her legal name is Beverly Burke and she herself came to the faith later in her life.

In her 20s, she turned to drugs and ended up homeless.  She later turned her life around, but something was still missing. She went online to research different faiths and found Islam had the most appeal.

 “I was bathed in a white light,” she said. “This is what I had been looking for.”

Eight days after her conversion to Islam in 2001, four planes were hijacked by radicalized extremists and life as we know it was forever changed.

Burke Mughal remembers the sadness and fear was pervasive in the aftermath of 9/11.

When she heard about the Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu homicides in October, her immediate concern was for her “Muslim sisters.”

“The women are more visible than the men because of what they wear,” Burke Mughal said. 

“Some feel intimidated and worry people will hate them.”

She felt police, politicians and journalists focused too much on Islam and radicalization.

“I don’t think them being Muslim had much to do with it. I think it was more of a mental health issue,“ said Burke Mughal.

She also questioned why some are labelled terrorists while others are not.

Last summer, a gunman was on the loose in Moncton. The city was locked down, three Mounties were killed.  

But at no point was the shooter’s faith mentioned in the news briefings or reporting.

Burke Mughal said she never saw the crime referred to as act of terror. When she questioned that on Facebook, she says she was called a radical.

“I think there is too much hatred and racism, and that [is] affecting us to some degree.”

Burke Mughal said she cried and prayed for the soldiers’ families after the most recent incidents.

She encouraged members of Montreal’s Muslim community to attend memorials to honour the slain soldiers.

Overcoming fear

The attacks in Quebec and Ottawa shook our sense of safety and security.

Burke Mughal hasn’t forgotten the fear of “the other” that rippled out after 9/11. But she’s not afraid.

“I say go out there and be proud of who you are.”

That’s what she’ll be doing. Her Purple Hope Project hopes to feed Montreal’s hungry and homeless every second Sunday.