New Zealand Vigil Unites SLU Community


Photo Courtesy of Riley Tovornik

Last week the Muslim Students Association held a vigil in honor of the victims of the recent terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Muslim students in attendance were called to prayer at the beginning of the vigil, and non-Muslim guests were able to follow along with an Arabic/English translation, making the experience inclusive to all in attendance. Inclusion, cooperation and acceptance were significant themes of the event.

Muslim Students Association Co-President Nadia Sirajuddin said that including all members of the community was a main goal for MSA when planning the vigil.

“I wanted to impart on the community members that we are one community,” said Sirajuddin. “Whether we are Muslim or not, we should mourn this tragedy because we are all human beings.”

Muslim Students Association Co-President Maaz Tariq emphasized the community that the place of worship provides for Muslims, and how the Mosque is a place of peace that feels like home to many. He specifically emphasized his horror at hearing that someone could attack Muslims while they were engaging in peaceful prayer, and how the pain of this attack goes beyond just the Muslim community itself.

“This is not just an attack on Muslims, it is an attack on all humanity,” Tariq said.

Sirajuddin agreed, saying, “The deaths of these victims at the mosque, God’s home, where they are praying peacefully at their most vulnerable state, has left our entire community of humanity hurting.”

Before he concluded his speech, Tariq made sure to note that people of all faiths and backgrounds must work together to eliminate hate, saying, “Even if we have different beliefs, it is our love for one another that overcomes all.”

After Tariq, Jonathan Smith, Ph.D., vice president for diversity and community engagement at SLU, gave a brief and passionate address to the community members in attendance. Smith began by acknowledging that there were “no words in any language I know that could sufficiently offer any comfort or consolation.”

Smith spoke to the importance of working to create and foster a community that accepts and supports people of all races, faiths and backgrounds.  

“We can no longer seek to find a beloved, safe, sacred community,” Smith said. “We are charged with making that community.”

After Smith’s speech, the Muslim Students Association invited representatives from other faith-based organizations on campus to offer up prayers. Students from the Hindu Students Association, SLU Campus Ministry and the Jewish Students Association all came forward to share prayers from their own faith traditions.

Regarding the inclusion of other faiths along with the other events held at the vigil, Sirajuddin said, “I wanted to make this vigil something not just for the Muslim community alone to mourn the victims. I wanted to get everyone involved, which led me to try and reach out to all the different faith-based organizations.”

MSA also provided opportunities for community members to send their prayers, thoughts and support to the Mosques in New Zealand where the attacks took place. At the entrance of the vigil, attendees could fill out a paper heart with messages that would be sent to New Zealand.

Sirajuddin said that she hoped that students took away a sense of community from the vigil.

“From the vigil, I hope they [the students] took away how similar we are when it comes down to the themes of our beliefs. I hope that people realize that sometimes we are alienated more by the media than we ought to be and that Islam is a beautiful religion.”

A main theme of the vigil, and of MSA’s programming, was to include and educate all members of the SLU community about Islam and how they can better support and ally with the Muslim community. Sirajuddin said that there are many opportunities for students to become closer allies with the Muslim community.

“I want the SLU community to really know that you don’t have to be scared to ask questions. Please ask and learn about Islam, about anything that you are curious or confused about whatsoever. I think people are often times scared to ask, thinking it’s offensive, but wanting to learn can never be offensive,” said Sirajuddin. “I recommend that you attend our MSA events such as Islam Awareness Week, Fast-a-Thon, Hijab Awareness Day, where we really try to educate the campus on Islam. However even aside from these events, you can always reach out to MSA.”

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