“Hello Brother.” These were the first words said to a man who entered a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand before he opened fire, killing at least 50 people Friday, March 15. The massacre has shaken Muslim communities around the world, including the Muslim community on Loyola’s campus more than 8,500 miles away.
In response to the tragedy, Loyola’s Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) organized a vigil on campus to show support for the victims. Around 200 people gathered at Loyola’s East Quad Monday evening for MSA’s vigil, according to Omer Mozaffar, MSA’s chaplain.
Kyse Zorub — a 22-year-old senior majoring in economics and MSA’s president — gave a speech denouncing the hate which fuels acts of terrorism and Islamophobia, the fear or hatred of Islam or Muslims. As a way to honor the victims who lost their lives, he named a few of them individually.
“I’m Muslim but I’m also a human, most importantly,” Zorub told the crowd. “I’m a human like Amjad Hamid, a heart surgeon … like Husna Ahmad, who escaped the mosque by leading people out, then ran back in to try to save her husband who was on a wheelchair.”
Mohammed Umar Siddiqui, a 22-year-old junior and MSA member, and Dunyah Abulaban, an 18-year-old on MSA’s freshman committee, followed Zorub’s speech with a prayer, asking Allah — which is the Arabic word for God — for guidance and safety. Siddiqui recited the prayer in Arabic and Dunyah translated it into English.
After greeting the crowd with the Islamic greeting of peace — As-salamu alaikum — Mozaffar cried as he struggled to find the right words.
“Mine is the responsibility for giving answers,” Mozaffar said. “But I don’t have answers.”
In his speech, the Muslim chaplain connected the tragedy in New Zealand with the October shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue — which killed 11 people — just months earlier. Both acts of violence against places of worship were carried out by people “programmed with hate,” he said.
Mozaffar urged the crowd to take action because he said tragedies like these aren’t individual, they’re systemic. He encouraged each person in the to crowd to start by trying to make a difference locally.
“How many times a day do you hear social justice on this campus?” he asked. “So one thing I’m obliging you to do is figure out a project to make someone’s life better. If you’re already part of a project, then teach it to the rest of us.”
Before attendees left, Mozaffar asked them to build community by introducing themselves to someone they didn’t know and sharing their story.
Leading up to the vigil, Loyola’s Muslim community received support from organizations on campus — such as Students for Justice In Palestine, Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund and Students Organize For Syria — Zorub said. Religious organizations and Campus Ministry also reached out, he said.
Camille Jackson, a 20-year-old sophomore, began to cry while telling The Phoenix about why she attended the vigil.
“I have friends who are Muslim so it’s just like ‘Oh, that could’ve been my friends,’” the sociology and film and digital media double major said. “And even if I didn’t have friends who are Muslim … It’s almost like these people are like my family and it could happen at any time.”
Mozaffar said some Muslim students have gone to him questioning their safety, especially since the attack occurred in their religious place of worship — what they consider a safe space.
Maryam Butt, a 20-year-old junior majoring in neuroscience and MSA board member, explained some fear stems from the specific day and time the shooting occurred: during Jummah, Muslims’ Friday congregational prayer.
“We go to Jummah every week here, we hold it at school,” Butt said. “So the fact that the shooting was at something so religious but also normal.”
Zorub also said it hit close to home, so much that he was able to imagine it happening in a mosque in his own hometown, Orland Park — a suburb about a 45-minute drive from campus.
“It was an affluent community, too,” Zorub said. “Like in our world, we don’t think that can happen in those communities … It makes you think, it can really happen anywhere.”
Zorub and Mozaffar recalled when a bullet struck the dome of a mosque in Orland Park in 2014. The shooting was early in the morning when Muslims were at the mosque for Fajr, their prayer before sunrise, Mozaffar said. It was unclear as to whether the shot was intentional or not.
While emotions were high during the vigil, some Muslims on campus expressed not being that shocked by the attack.
“There have been so many attacks recently that it didn’t really stand out to me that much,” Butt said. “I was kind of disappointed in myself because we always tell ourselves we shouldn’t be desensitized.”
Members of MSA said one of its goals in hosting this vigil was to help students struggling with what happened.
“I’m hoping that people kind of leave with a sense of hope because I feel like that’s very lacking right now,” Butt said. “And then hopefully seeing everyone in solidarity and together, it’ll comfort people.”
Before the vigil, Muslims gathered outside to pray Maghrib — their fourth prayer of the day.
Loyola president Jo Ann Rooney sent out an email to the Loyola community on Tuesday morning addressing the tragedy and expressing her sympathy.
“We in the Loyola University Chicago community offer our deepest condolences, thoughts, and prayers to our Muslim brothers and sisters worldwide, and especially to the victims and families and communities affected by the Islamophobic terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand,” Rooney wrote.