Fadel Allassan, News Editor
Ali Ijaz felt numb when he woke up to the news of 50 dead and 50 injured at shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday.
Ijaz, like many other Muslims, was shocked upon hearing the news. But he had always realized the possibility that such an event could happen given the strong anti-Muslim sentiments felt by many.
“I haven’t really processed it. I haven’t had time to do that yet,” Ijaz said. “As far as how the Muslim community has coped, I think we’re still doing that.”
For many Muslims on campus, a terror attack nearly 9,000 miles away felt close to home. The nature of the attack is familiar to Americans who are used to news of deadly shootings.
The shooter’s decision to target mosques on a Friday afternoon is not coincidental. The Friday prayer is well-attended every week by Muslims around the world. Some VCU students said the Christchurch attacks resonated with them because the fear of attacks at Friday prayer aren’t unlikely, especially given that the U.S. is notorious for a high number of mass shootings.
On Friday afternoon, the Muslim Students’ Association held a vigil to console its members. Despite the short notice, nearly 50 people attended.
“We just thought we needed to do something because it was so tragic and alarming,” said MSA President Moazan Rehman, a junior.
During the vigil, students of all faiths gathered in a circle in the Compass and read prayers for the lives lost. MSA members spoke and emphasized solidarity, peace and kindness in response to actions fueled by hate.
Rehman said he wanted students who attended the event, which was open to people of all faiths, to come away feeling a sense of unity. The fact that Jewish and Christian students came to the vigil to show their support, Rehman said, showed that the Muslim community has plenty of support from the outside.
“They shouldn’t feel alone or feel scared,” Rehman said. “They should know they have people there for them.”
The university made an effort to show support for Muslim students. In an email sent to the VCU community, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs condemned bigotry and reminded students it provides services to help with coping.
“We condemn all forms of bias, bigotry and hate and extend our support to Muslim students, faculty and staff members and to everyone who has been affected by bias-related violence recently,” the email read.
In a similar message, university president Michael Rao said he recognized that events like these happen often, but there is never any excuse for it.
“All of us are deeply affected by threats against any of us,” Rao stated.
Despite the support, Rehman and other Muslim students like Barika Mirza are also too familiar with the prevalence of islamophobia.
The MSA secretary and sophomore said it’s time for society and media to take a hard look at how they portray Muslims.
“Terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims get way more coverage,” Mirza said. “The focus on demonizing and terrorizing Muslims — they need to take ownership for what happened as well.”
Ijaz reiterated Mirza’s sentiments, adding that Islamophobia runs beyond any single event or administration.
“We have to avoid saying that this happened because of the particular person in the White House,” Ijaz said. “Islamophobia has been rampant in our society for at least 20 years now.”
Mirza said she reminded everyone who attended the vigil that they should not be afraid to be themselves.
“I told them they shouldn’t live in fear,” Mirza said. “They should be unapologetically Muslim.”
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