Community leaders, elected officials reflect on deadly New Zealand mosque shootings

Photo courtesy of The Islamic Institute of America  Imam Hassan Qazwini leads Friday prayer March 15 at the Islamic Institute of America, 26305 Ford Road in Dearborn Heights, following the deadly shooting that killed 50 people during prayer at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Photo courtesy of The Islamic Institute of America
Imam Hassan Qazwini leads Friday prayer March 15 at the Islamic Institute of America, 26305 Ford Road in Dearborn Heights, following the deadly shooting that killed 50 people during prayer at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

 

By ZEINAB NAJM
Times-Herald Newspapers

Residents, elected officials, community leaders and organizations throughout Dearborn and Dearborn Heights condemned the two March 15 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The deadly shootings took the lives of 50 people and left more than 20 injured during Friday prayer at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque after Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, 28, opened fire while live streaming the attack. He was charged with in connection with the shootings.

Following the shooting, Dearborn and Dearborn Heights police increased their presence at local mosques over the weekend ensuring safety for worshipers throughout the day.

“I just want our community to know that we are going to be monitoring our entire faith-based community — all churches and mosques throughout the weekend,” Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad said on March 15. “Go on with your lives and do what you normally do. Know that your Dearborn police are going to give an extra effort to make sure that all places of worship are safe this weekend.”

On March 21, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that all assault rifles, military-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines will be banned in New Zealand as a result of the mosque shootings. During the first week of April, the gun reform proposal will be introduced to Parliament and lawmakers will vote on amending the current Arms Act 1983 legislation in New Zealand, according to CNN.

The Islamic Center of America, 19500 Ford Road, sent out a press release strongly condemning the New Zealand shootings.

“A house of worship is a sacred place of refuge and peace and should never be a place of fear or violence when people come together to pray,” the statement read. “We thank our law enforcement authorities for their extra vigilance during this difficult time and we ask our friends and community members to be cautious and report any suspicious activity they may encounter while visiting their houses of worship or anywhere they congregate.”

A candlelight vigil was held on March 15 at the mosque, and on March 17 a Standing Together Against Hate and Terror Community Memorial fearured elected officials and leaders reflecting while photos of victims from the shootings in New Zealand flashed on a screen behind them.

Those in attendance included ICA Imam Sheikh Ahmad Hammoud, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-15th District), 19th District Court Judge Sam Salamey, Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Dearborn City Council President Susan Dabaja.

Abdullah Hammoud thanked the ICA for opening its doors, police for their ensuring safety at the ICA and said that Fadwa Hammoud called him following the New Zealand shootings angry at the direction society “continuously heads.”

“We asked how can we channel our anger and decided this gathering of communities who have suffered at the hands of hate and terror would be one means of channeling that energy,” he said. “This gathering is not for any single individual, but rather for communities who have been at the hands of hate and terror.

“Although we send our condolences, our thoughts and prayers to the victims of not only Christ Church, but victims of hate and terror wherever they may be, today also happens to be a rally cry to mobilize communities who are suffering.”

Nessel began her speech by offering condolences and prayers to the 50 victims of the New Zealand shooting, their families or loved ones and to those who survived in order to heal quickly.

“While this tragedy may have occurred all the way across the world, the acts of a terrorist who committed these heinous acts, they inspire fear here in America, here in Michigan and especially here  Dearborn, right? In places where we expect to be free of the violence of intolerance, hatred and bigotry,” she said. “The Department of Michigan Attorney General will stand up against hatred and intolerance and violence, and let those who wish to harm us know that we will not lie down, that we will fight back, that we will resist and we will conquer hate working together.”

Evans said the more vocal people are and the more people stand up against oppression, the more people will find out about the country they are born in, but that the majority of the United States is a great county and some haters will not change.

“What troubles me more than anything else is that silent majority out there who in their hearts feel this is bad, but they can’t get up and put it into action,” he said. They’re not bad people, they just don’t count because they’re not getting up saying, ‘This is sick, this is wrong and this is what should not happen.’

“There’s always going to be a struggle in this world. We need to struggle for peace, for acceptance even though we’ve earned it. There’s always a struggle, but the biggest struggle is people have to speak out against this behavior and if they don’t they are complacent in it.”

Dingell released a statement on March 15 calling the mosque shootings an unprecedented act of violence in another house of worship.

“Too many dead in mosques in New Zealand,” she wrote. “Yet again one more act of hate and violence. Every person should be able to worship in a mosque, church or temple without fear. Hatred and fear continue to divide us. Today will be difficult for many of my friends who will worry when they worship this weekend. I stand with them. Divided we fall, united we stand. We can and must recognize that our differences make us stronger.”

On her social media pages, Tlaib also posted a statement on March 15 mentioning holding back tears as she hugged her two “brown, Muslim boys” a little tighter and longer.

“The painful loss of life based on hate makes me so angry,” she wrote. “I am so angry at those who follow the ‘white supremacy’ agenda in my own country that sends a signal across the world that massacres like this is some kind of call to action. Today, is Jumu’ah (Friday) prayer for Muslims across our nation, and as each one kneels to worship Allah (yes, it means God), I pray that they are protected and can find some kind of peace. I hope that our children don’t become numb to this, and that this is not their new normal.”

The Islamic Institute of America, 26305 Ford Road in Dearborn Heights, held a candlelight vigil March 15 for the 50 victims who lost their lives in the New Zealand shooting.

“I would like to offer my condolences to Muslims around the world and particularly to Muslims in New Zealand for the terrorist attack that took place today and in which almost 50 innocent people were killed, cold bloodily,” Islamic Institute of America Imam Sayed Hassan al-Qazwini said.

“Always fingers have pointed to Muslims, Muslims are terriorsts. This incident proves that terriorism knows no religion, has no religion and we have to name things by their own name. This was a terrorist attack committed by a white supremacist, an extremist, a bigot, a hateful man. This is what hate does, my dear brothers and sisters. That’s why all religions, including Islam, Judaism and Christianity, always preach tolerance and love.”

That same day, Islamic House of Wisdom Imam Mohammad Elahi gave speech at Friday prayer regarding the New Zealand attack.

“Today is an extremely sad day in the history of the Muslim community and human community,” he said. “This is a dark day, a painful day when over 100 Muslims either massacred or wounded in their houses of worship in New Zealand. There is no word of being able to condemn this horrible crime, not only against God and religion, but against humanity.”

During a Wayne County Commission meeting on March 19, the commissioners unanimously voted to enter Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun’s (D-Dearborn) statement of condemnation on the New Zealand massacre as part of permanent Wayne County records,

“Since Wayne County is a welcoming county and we represent 1.8 million people, please join me in calling on all elected officials in all levels of governments and the power brokers of our society to reject hate, bigotry, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia,” his statement read. “And to work diligently to protect the First Amendment rights of all faiths and traditions.”

He also posted his remarks on his personal Facebook page.

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough anymore,” Baydoun added in calling on the commission, as well as other elected officials, to speak out against the rising tide of violence worldwide against ethnic, racial, cultural and religious minorities. “There’s no religion that can justify the killing of innocent people,” Baydoun said, adding that people must be safe to worship “in a church, a temple or a mosque.”

Dearborn Public Schools Supt. Glenn Maleyko attended the community memorial at the ICA and offered his thoughts and prayers with a message on his blog.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and the families of the New Zealand massacre,” the post read. “We will provide support to students and staff who may have difficulty at school as a result of this horrific act. We will stand together and support each other as we always do. Take care, everyone.”

Henry Ford College President Russell Kavalhuna also put out a statement on the shootings saying he grieves with all who were shocked by the news.

“The New Zealand murders took place during Jumu’ah, or Friday Prayer. All prayer times are sacred, but the Friday Prayer is a specific communal time,” he said. “A core part of our commitment at Henry Ford College is to keep our community, and each other, safe. This is an active commitment, and one that all of us must embrace.

“My message for you is that our college values you, and we are with you in your quest for education and a brighter future. Your prayer times and community gatherings and sacred spaces deserve the utmost respect. No person should wonder whether his or her religious beliefs make them a target for hateful violence.”

The Arab American Civil Rights League denounced the “white supremacist attack on New Zealand mosques” in a March 15 press release.

“Today marks a horrific attack on all civilized nations of the world,”ACRL Founder Nabih Ayad said. “The senseless terrorist attack on Muslims while they worship peace and love reminds us once again that all faiths must come together to condemn and stand united against those that harbor hate in their heart. Our deepest condolences to the victims and their loved ones.”

Similarly, the American Human Rights Council also condemned the “recent mass shootings of Muslim worshipers in New Zealand” according to its March 15 press release.

“We urge Muslim communities to be vigilant, the threat is real,” AHRC Executive Director Imad Hamad said. “Security is our collective responsibility, combatting hate is also our collective responsibility. The massacre in New Zealand should shock us all into considering the root causes of such crimes and motivate us to spare no effort to protect the sanctity of human life.”

University of Michigan-Dearborn student organizations the Arab Student Union, Lebanese Student Association, Students For Islamic Awareness, Yemeni Student Association, Iraqi American Student Union, Students for Justice in Palestine, Muslim Student Association and Center for Arab American Studies held a candlelight vigil March 18 for the 50 lives lost in the New Zealand shootings.

“I just wanted to remind everybody that we’re all here to honor the lives that were lost and we’re also here to let everybody know our community is really diverse and that’s what makes us special,” ASU President and UM-D junior Lynn Kabbani said. “That’s what makes us Dearborn, really, and it’s not just about Dearborn, it’s about everybody. So, just us being here tonight proves that our different cultures, backgrounds and religions does not matter and things like this shouldn’t really tear us apart. It should really bring us in together.”

LaunchGood CEO and Co-Founder Chris Abdur-Rahman Blauvelt of Dearborn began a fundraiser on March 15 to help the victims of the New Zealand mosque shootings.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey donated $25,000 and also tweeted the campaign’s link that same afternoon and as of March 21, $2.47 million of the $2.5 million goal in New Zealand dollar currency was raised. According to the fundraiser page, all funds raised will be distributed to the victims’ families by the New Zealand Islamic Information Centre.

(Zeinab Najm can be reached at zeinabnajm92@gmail.com.)