Community Vigil Denounces Islamophobia and Educates

by Aaron Burkhalter

More than a thousand people filled the space at Muslim Association of Puget Sound in Redmond on the evening of March 18 to mourn the 50 people in New Zealand who died in a massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Muslim organizations led the multi-faith event, which included participation from Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, and Christian people and faith leaders, among others.

It was a time to grieve, but also to educate. The vigil began with prayers from multiple faiths and ended with a teach-in led by Aneelah Afzali, executive director of MAPS-AMEN

At the beginning of the vigil, faith leaders gathered in front of the crowd while Sheikh Abdirahman Kaariye of Islamic Center of Bothell, Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown of Plymouth Congregational Church, and Rabbi David Basior of Kadima Reconstructionist Community denounced the attack and called for community action.

Kaariye addressed his words to the shooter, saying “you have brought us closer together and strengthened our faith and resolve.”

Brown called people to step out and directly address white supremacy and xenophobia.

“To be quiet in that moment is to be complicit in that sin,” Brown said.

Basior urged faith communities to come together in allyship with Black and Brown communities to take action.

“Now it is more important than ever for the Muslim and Jewish communities to unite,” he said.

Attendees enter the Muslim Association of the Puget Sound in Redmond for a vigil following the death of 50 Muslims in New Zealand at the hands of a self-proclaimed white supremacist. (Photo: Jacquie Bird Day, Courtesy CAIR-WA)

Local public officials attended the event, including Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, Washington 7th Congressional District Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“This is the love that defeats hate,” Jayapal said, addressing the crowd that had reached standing room only, with people lined up along the walls all around.

Nayab Khan shared the story of his childhood friend, Naeem Rashid, who died trying to tackle the shooter in Christchurch. Khan knew Rashid since the first grade, noting his life as a banker, beekeeper, advocate and family men.

Afzali ended the two-hour vigil by educating people on Islam and how people have perceived it as tied to terrorism. News media, she said, use the word “terrorist” to mean Muslim and will refer to white people who commit acts of horrific violence as “lone wolves.”

Even as she worked through educating people, she tied it back to the multifaith crowd that came to support the Muslim community.

“You can’t have faith without loving one another,” she said.

People who attended received a list titled “12 Ways You Can Combat Islamophobia,” which is reprinted below:

1) Name the problem: Islamophobia
And equate it to other forms of hate, such as xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semiticsm.

2) Learn about the Islamophobia Network

3) Sign the Petition to Repeal the Muslim Ban

4) Take Action with Your Representative to Repeal the Ban

5) Support the WA State Hate Crimes Bill

6) Support the WA State Religious Accommodations Bill

7) Demand Public Schools Respect All Religions

8) Sign the Petition to Change Violent, Islamophobic City Names

9) Donate to the Victims in New Zealand

10) Use your social media and other platforms, along with letters to the editor/op-eds, to share personal, humanizing stories about the Muslims you know, and contact media when they use Islamophobic imagery, narratives or double standards

11) Attend the many upcoming events to get to know your Muslim neighbors

12) Follow any of the Muslim community groups sponsoring tonight’s program on social media or through their newsletters to hear about more opportunities to learn, engage, and serve together!

Featured Image: Attendees held signs reading “We Stand with Our Muslim Neighbors” at a Vigil in Redmond. (Photo: Jacquie Bird Day, Courtesy CAIR-WA)