The international community stood in solidarity with their Muslim neighbors after 50 individuals were killed in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
On March 14 during Friday prayer services, a 28-year-old man Australian man allegedly opened fire in both the Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center, according to USA Today. One witness said that the gunman had a semi-automatic weapon and targeted “the men’s prayer rooms at the Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue first, opening fire on worshipers before moving on to the women’s section,” according to TV New Zealand.
The suspect is facing one charge of murder; however, “further charges will be laid … [and details of] those charges will be communicated at the earliest possible opportunity,” according to a statement released by the New Zealand Police.
When Zahra Maxwell, junior international business and entrepreneurship major, heard about the shootings, she was shocked. Her grandpa lives in Christchurch but was not in the area at the time. “New Zealand is one of the safest places in the world because it’s so separate geographically as well as politically. It’s very independent although it’s a commonwealth. It’s very well structured and in the First World and also it appears to be independent of a lot of political things … because it’s so neutral,” Maxwell said. “An event like this shows that Islamophobia or white supremacy, that’s very much under the surface, is present in all places, and no one is free from that, no matter if they’re on the other side of the world on a little island.”
Quintin Bailey, junior kinesiology major, is from the Taranaki in the North Island of New Zealand. “The big message we had back home, which I support, is ‘They are us.’ That was the big push. As a New Zealander, you felt embarrassed for something like this to go on in your own country because they see it as a safe place,” Bailey said. “But then you’d be kind of naïve to think that something like that couldn’t go on. They shouldn’t have been singled out because of their religious beliefs.”
“As far as I’m concerned, everyone can have a different belief or understanding and that’s fine. You don’t have to agree, but you have to respect it,” Bailey said. “Obviously, there’s always going to be some right-wings, people from either party who go beyond. Everyone should be safe in their belief or religion, no matter what their stance on it is.”
Muslim congregations held memorial services across the United States as faith and community leaders offered support during the immediate aftermath of grief and fear of subsequent attacks.
The Islamic Center of Northwest Arkansas held a vigil for the victims on March 23. Raiyan Syed, head of public relations for the Islamic Center, said they wanted to hold a service to help commemorate the victims. “It’s something that was done by Temple Shalom in Fayetteville after the Pittsburgh shooting, and members of our community attended that congregation as well,” Syed said. “Our congregation handled it extremely well. A ton of leaders and volunteers mobilized together in order to set up our mosque for hosting such a nice crowd of people. We’ve been fortunate to have many supportive neighbors so many of them came. Among those who spoke were the rabbi from Temple Shalom, the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, and even Mayor Jordan.”
“Each time there’s been some sort of unfortunate event, we’ve had many people reach out with their support. It’s a blessing that we were not surprised by the pleasant response of our neighbors who reached out to us after this tragedy,” Syed said. “It’s flattering to know that people are thinking of us during our tougher times. Even the local media has been supportive of us during hard times. I would just encourage keeping up the good work because it truly makes us feel like we belong in this community.”
In Clarkston, Ga., JBU students on a spring break mission trip took part in a vigil for the victims at Refuge Coffee Co. Jina Kim, sophomore biology major, said, “I could feel the heaviness of grief and hearts of those hurting, but the fact that one another were present to support each other was encouraging.”
The event helped Kim to learn more about the importance of faith in times of crisis, especially through the grief of Muslim refugees. “Others of different religions are dignified human beings. Extremists do not reflect the whole belief of a religion, and to let each other know that we are aware of the misrepresentation is also a way of being neighbors to each other,” Kim said. “To be a community and standing for one another of different religion is an action to make the least room for hate as much as possible.”