Muslim Students Association holds vigil for victims of New Zealand mosque attacks

Dean Groves, President Ryan among community members in attendance to honor the 50 lives lost

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The vigil ended with a group prayer with several verses from the Quran read aloud.

Callie Collins | Cavalier Daily

Members of the University community came together Monday evening to hold a vigil in the Amphitheater for the victims of the recent terrorist attack committed at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand Friday. The event, hosted by the Muslim Students Association, was attended by over 100 community members, including Dean of Students Allen Groves and University President Jim Ryan.

The shooter in the attack has been identified as Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian man and self-identified white supremacist. The shooter killed 50 people and injured dozens more, making it the deadliest shooting in New Zealand’s history. Tarrant has currently been charged with one account of murder and is expected to face additional charges when he appears again in court in a few weeks.

Al Ahmed, a fourth-year Curry student and president of the Muslim Students Association, began the vigil by discussing the necessity of coming together during these times of tragedy. Ahmed also stressed the importance of taking action in the wake of such attacks. Ahmed highlighted learning more about Islam and working to connect with the Muslim community as important steps in moving conversations forward.

“Islamophobia isn’t new to our Grounds,” Ahmed said. “You know we've had, unfortunately, over the course of my time here, we've had a number of islamophobic incidents that have occurred.”

Ahmed was followed by a number of Muslim students who shared personal experiences, reactions to the attacks and offerings of how to move forward as a community. Dean Groves also spoke, echoing calls for action to be taken to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

“Honestly, it was really overwhelming to see how many people came out tonight,” Ahmed said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “It just shows that people care.”

The Muslim Students Association also released a statement last Friday addressing the attacks. The statement has since been signed in solidarity by nearly two dozen organizations and community leaders affiliated with the University, including Student Council, the University Judiciary Committee and University President Jim Ryan.

“Our community is deeply saddened and hurt by this attack, and we would like to extend our most sincere condolences, thoughts, and prayers to our brothers and sisters in New Zealand,” the statement reads. “We stand in solidarity with the survivors who lost friends, family, and loved ones, and we ask God to grant ease, strength, and mercy to all those affected.”

The statement called for wider recognition of the issues affecting the Muslim community and stated that tragedies such as these need to be better addressed by people and politicians.

“While these attacks are obviously extremely heinous, the ignorance, bigotry, and hate behind them are sadly not unfamiliar to our community, and to Muslim communities the world over,” the statement reads. “Muslims at UVA and around the world face hate and prejudice every day, and live in fear that the dangerous rhetoric that has become commonplace in politics and public discourse will lead to Islamophobic attacks like the one in Christchurch.”

The vigil ended with a group prayer with several verses from the Quran. The prayer was first read in Arabic and was followed by the English translation. In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Ahmed expressed hope that dialogue would continue across the community.

“I hope it doesn't stop here,” Ahmed said. “We hope that people like the people that attended here tonight we will continue to you know take action and engage with our community here.”

Ahmed also expressed a desire for wider recognition of persecutions across the Muslim world, pointing out that the community faces larger issues alongside tragedies such as this one.

“I hope that we can continue to reach out to as many students as possible with our initiatives,” said Ahmed. “It’s kind of sad because we shouldn't have to be the one to defend ourselves and every Muslim attack that happens or whenever there's an incident happened, we shouldn't have to defend our religion.” 

Ryan wrote on Twitter Friday that he stands in support with the Muslim Students Association and will commit to speaking out against Islamophobia. He also vowed to visit the Islamic Society of Central Virginia, support the upcoming Islam Awareness Month events and initiatives, visit the weekly “Ask A Muslim” table by the Whispering Wall outside Newcomb, get to know Islam and Muslims in the community and donate to the New Zealand victims.

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