By KATE SELTZER
At 6 p.m. on Monday, more than 160 students and faculty members gathered on Ball Circle for a vigil held in honor of the 50 Muslims who were murdered by a white supremacist in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“It was an attack on humanity,” said Sharjeel Ahmed, vice president of UMW’s Muslim Student Association (MSA). “It was worshipers who were worshiping in peace. They did not have intentions of hurting anyone.”
Students bore signs reading “You’ll never be forgotten,” “Islam stands for peace,” and “We are them and they are us.” Religious studies professor Mary Beth Mathews voiced her appreciation for the large turnout and called on students to take action against bigotry in their own lives.
“I think it speaks well for Mary Washington that so many of you have come out to say no to hate, to say no to fear and to make it to stop,” she said. “The best way to fight this is to go beyond just standing here, but when you see people… express words of hatred, address that.”
Sophomore Emily Voorhis echoed the sentiment.
“I think that another thing we have to do. especially if you’re white, is step up and call out people being hateful, even if it’s a joke,” she said. “That’s something real people are dying from. It’s not harmless.”
The shooting targeted two mosques and left fifty dead and fifty others wounded. Recent reports say that the shooter, who posted anti-immigrant rhetoric online before the attack, was on the way to a third mosque when he was apprehended.
“We saw pictures of the cars that were left at the mosque that had no more drivers,” Ahmed said. “The youngest of the victims was three years old. Three years old. Some of us have children or siblings that are that age. Some of the victims were 25, 23, most of us are that age.”
Zafrullah Malik, president of MSA, said that the shooting in Christchurch was the most recent of many Islamophobic attacks in his lifetime.
“One time [when] I was in middle school, I came home, and I heard of an attack on a Pakistani mosque where my parents actually used to go,” Malik said. “There were over 100 people killed, and there was no news coverage. During that time, I didn’t know how to tell anybody or who to go talk to or who to turn to.”
He said that feeling of hopelessness changed at Monday’s vigil.
“Now, standing here today, with so many people here, so many familiar faces, so many people that I may not even know…that really means a lot to me.”
Ahmed read the names of the twenty victims who had thus far been identified.
“The Quran says that whoever kills an innocent life, it is as if he has killed all of mankind,” Ahmed said. “And whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of mankind. This attack was not on a mosque, it was on humans – our brothers and our sisters.”
Other students, staff members and local faith leaders voiced messages of love and support.
“Even in the face of this violence, and this hate, you should still have love and express love,” said Marion Sanford, director of the James Farmer Multicultural Center. “I also call upon each of us to be that light, that shining light, that will help drive out all of this darkness.”
“I find that our greatest challenge is not to become numb and complacent,” said Sabrina Johnson, vice president of equity and access. She asked students for suggestions on how the UMW community can show up for victims of white supremacy and bigotry wherever we see it.
President Paino was absent from the event, citing his attendance at the Women’s History Month keynote address at 7 p.m.
“It’s not just the fight for MSA, it’s not just the fight for Islam,” Ahmed reiterated. “This is our fight together. We can’t be a diverse community until we drive out the hate that prevents us from doing what we need to do.”