Our hearts are broken. My heart is broken. The nightmare confrontation that played out in New Zealand in one way is global in scale, but it is also human and individual in scale. The first person at the mosque to speak to the gunman greeted him by saying, “As-salaamu ‘alaikum, brother. Peace be upon you.” That welcoming greeting of peace was tragically met with blind hatred and death. Yes, there are layers of complexity involving international movements and political trends underlying this act of terror. But in Christchurch on Friday we could all see: It’s simple. It’s stark. It’s good versus evil. It’s a greeting of peace met with murderous violence.
The lives of those who died in Christchurch that day tell us a beautiful story of a welcoming, hopeful community whose presence is woven into the fabric of the diverse, inclusive country that is New Zealand—a place described by Haji Daoud Nabi as “a slice of paradise”. The 71-year-old died as he threw himself in front of others to protect them. Our Muslim community and the world are in mourning for the loss of each soul: cardiologist Amjad Hamid, Husna Ara Parvin who died trying to save her husband, little 3-year-old Mucad Ibrahim, Hussein Al Umari who tried to stop the shooter, and each precious life taken from this earth. We share the grief of the wounded and the trauma of the families and friends. The world will forever hold the beauty of the people of the Christchurch mosques in its heart. That spirit is stronger than any hatred could ever be. To the survivors, the families, the helpers and supporters—you will not be forgotten.
Now, as the hours and days pass since the horrific attack, what are we learning and what can we do? Most importantly, we are learning that love and heroism is a light that shines brighter and stronger than hatred and cowardice ever will. And the love and support flowing towards those devastated by this tragedy is lighting up the world.
But in that light we are seeing into some very dark corners where the worst human impulses lurk. And we are learning more about a growing international network of white supremacists. Racism and bigotry isn’t new, but its influence and voice is growing. Profit driven media just want ratings and clicks. Content that elevates the conversation is not their main concern. The divisive language of fear, of racism, of hatred draws crowds and viewers, so the political leaders and influencers who shout the loudest and encourage the worst instincts get the most attention. Taboos are continually being broken and bigotry is being normalized. For our Muslim community, this means we are constantly dealing with the consequences of the Islamophobic messaging that is the accepted norm now in many Western countries.
Yes, it’s overwhelming. But the message from New Zealand and the worldwide response to the attacks there is clear. It’s a message rising up from our broken hearts. Those of us who choose love, who choose peace, who choose harmony and acceptance — we have it in our power to create societies based on these values because we have the power of numbers. So please make your voices heard at every opportunity. And remember that every time you click on a site or video that promotes hate — even though it’s just for your information and you don’t share it — you are indirectly spreading its message because your click raises its algorithmic ranking. Whether you volunteer to help others, or spread positive messages of inspiration — speak out, stand up. It matters. You matter. _sy.
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