It happened again. An attack on a faith community — this time two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, half a world away from Mason District. Horrific massacre. Dozens of innocent lives snuffed out in minutes by one man with a rifle — and lots of hate. The perpetrator reputed to be a white supremacist, whose weapons were purchased legally.
Shock and condemnation followed, from around the world. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’i — no matter the faith or cultural foundation — all were horrified, and all pondered both the message, and the action, that should follow. At Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in the Seven Corners area of Mason District, the response was swift and direct. The mosque opened its doors, its heart, and its hospitality to a standing-room only crowd on Saturday evening for a prayer vigil to remember what happened in Christchurch barely a day before. The central atrium was filled, the entry hall was filled, even the second floor hallways overlooking the atrium were filled. Two tables flanked the podium; each table had two signs that remembered previous attacks on faith communities, such as Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and Texas’ First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Also on each table, in blood-red letters on a stark white background, were poster-size names and ages of the victims in New Zealand. Each elected official, and pastor, rabbi, or imam (all the local churches and synagogues were represented) was asked to come forward and hold up the name of a victim. By the end, the list of names stretched from one side of the vast atrium to the other. In lieu of lighting candles in the crowded room, attendees were asked to lift their cellphones in flashlight mode. Hundreds of cellphones illuminated the darkened space, like hopeful bright stars against an inky sky.
In a voice fraught with emotion, one speaker exhorted those “with any connection to the current administration” to let the president know that his rhetoric has not been helpful to faith communities and people of peace. President Trump had said that white supremacists were just a “small group of people with very serious problems.” In a way, he may be correct: white supremacy and hate groups have been around, but somewhat latent. By repeatedly impugning various faith groups, including individual members, and not condemning hate-filled actions, Mr. Trump has encouraged the horrific activities of a few, and emboldened many others. This is wrong, wrong, wrong, and all must speak out, whether against use of racist language, catcalling the LBGTQ+ community, demeaning disabilities, or any other hateful and disrespectful actions.
Another speaker pointed out, to a lot of heads nodding in agreement, that “God didn’t create us to kill each other; we were created to live together with one another.” The vigil ended with “peace, salaam, shalom,” sung in unison, to which all responded Amen! How many more deaths, how many more vigils, how many more explanations to our children and ourselves, before we learn to live together, in peace?