Last week, in Christchurch, New Zealand, 50 Muslims were killed inside two mosques. The perpetrator knew what day it was. He opened fire during Jummah, a Friday prayer that attracts the most Muslims —especially children—to the mosque each week. I doubt any Muslim was shocked it happened. With the current grooming and allowance of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the news, it almost feels inevitable. I had no interest learning the shooter’s name or story but, rather, the names and stories of the Muslims who passed away. For any believing Muslim, we know they are guaranteed Paradise as martyrs.
A vigil was held downtown at Dealey Plaza for the victims on Saturday. I didn’t have the energy to attend. I needed to surround myself with people who understood a collective pain. Messages of “love” are not enough to heal wounds that are so fresh and deeply engraved. No imam attended, as Muslims were occupied with helping each other. Vigils were held at several mosques in Dallas.
On Saturday night, Roots DFW, a casual community space in Irving for Muslims, held a forum and prayer reflecting on the New Zealand tragedy. The discussion was led by Ustadh Abdel Rahman Murphy, an instructor at the Qalam Institute in Arlington and the director of the Roots Community Space. The forum allowed Muslims to mourn among one another for the victims of a hateful crime.
Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), a revered prophet in Islam, said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”
When I first heard news of the shooting, I was numb to condolences from non-Muslims. I paid little attention to the political discourse that immediately erupted. I was numb to the insensitive and inhumane responses from people who had the audacity to blame Muslim immigrants. Before Muslims even had a chance to process the harrowing reality of what took place in New Zealand, people were quick to sympathize with those in power. A grieving young Palestinian woman faced backlash for calling out Chelsea Clinton for having the nerve to show up to the vigil. The activist and NYU student responded to Clinton’s recent anti-Muslim rhetoric against U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and the hypocrisy to show what she believed was feigned sympathy toward Muslims.
At the Irving office space, seated around one another in a circle, attendees kept a much-needed discussion going. It was an intimate gathering of around 30 people. But it allowed Muslims to see and hear things clearly without having to watch the news. A small part of the community had a place to open up and shed some tears. Some, like myself, sat and listened to the discussion. People shared their initial reactions and fears. An attendee at the forum said she told her father not to go to the mosque for Fajr (an early morning prayer) the second she found out about the shooting. Another attendee urged us to not to fear going to the mosque.
All we could think about were the families who lost loved ones, and for the Muslims who had to witness this take place in their mosque, a second home. I pictured something like this happening at my own mosque in Frisco.
“I was talking with someone whose 12-year-old son didn’t want to go for jummah that week because he said he didn’t want to die,” Murphy said.
Other people shared their concern for attending upcoming late-night prayers during Ramadan. Women who wear hijab expressed their fears but also persevered to continue being a visible Muslim. The discussion eventually led to a grim discussion on learning protocols if a shooting like this ever happened at a mosque in Dallas, or even at Roots. Where would we go? Do we have to arm ourselves? Our hearts are heavy. We reflected and we grieved.
“Allow yourself to grieve,” said Murphy. “If you need to take time off watching the news, or time off your phone … do what you need to do to mourn.”
The Muslim community is tired. The expectation to prove our innocence and defend our community is a hollow, almost robotic, feeling. At least, we can afford the decency to grieve. Hopefully, this tragedy reveals a sickness that has plagued the ability for minority groups to simply exist. Islamophobic rhetoric and white supremacy need to be dismantled. Muslims, and other minority groups, can’t afford a privileged majority’s discomfort and passiveness while these systematic issues rage on. I still can’t define why this tragedy hit us the hardest. But, I pray, as a community, we are able to feel this much pain when tragedy hits any marginalized community.