Hailey Mensik

Monday, March 18, 2019

Arizona vigil for New Zealand victims wields love to overcome hate, terrorism

TEMPE – United, they mourned, coming together in Arizona in a vigil to show that love triumphs over hate.

Muslims. Members of the Jewish faith. Christians. Lawmakers and civil rights activists.

In the hours after 50 people died and dozens were injured in a terrorist attack at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last week, Arizona residents spoke of overcoming hate at a candlelight vigil at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe on Saturday.

Their voices joined thousands of others in the state and around the world.

“It’s so much love,” said Mahleej Zara, 22, adding the outpouring reminded her of a vigil she attended nearly a year ago when the same mosque was vandalized .

Her friend, Mira Aiche, looked around at the hundreds of people who came to the mosque.

“I was telling her I got goosebumps just by looking at people from all faiths and different ages, colors, everything,” Aiche, 22, said. “It just makes me feel so happy that people are here to support us, and we’ll be there to support you in your time of need.”

Those who spoke condemned Islamophobia, white supremacy and hateful rhetoric that they said fueled Friday’s attack.

“Unfortunately this is not the first, nor expected to be the last shooting tragedy,” said Imam Ahmad Shqeirat, senior imam at the Tempe mosque. “And this is not the first time we gather together to stand united and show solidarity with one another after an attack.”

A year ago, two women Facebook live-streamed themselves at the mosque mocking Muslims and encouraging three children to steal flyers they called “propaganda” in the video. The women were charged with burglary and criminal damage.

Tempe Councilwoman Lauren Kuby praised the mosque for its response to that incident.

“We responded with a vigil, but more importantly the entire community center invited those white supremacists to their community center to talk to them about Islam ,” Kuby said.

The suspect in the New Zealand attack also live streamed the attack, according to media reports.

“We know that hatred is here in America, and we’ve got to stand against it,” said Roy Tatem, president of the East Valley NAACP. “We can’t tolerate it whenever it yields its hand, whether it’s against our Muslim brothers and sisters, our Jewish brothers and sisters, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and definitely with our African American and Latino brothers and sisters.”

Shqeirat, who called for unity, decried a New Zealand senator’s statement blaming immigration on the attack.

“Our message in response is that we will embrace the immigrants more, host the immigrants more, welcome immigrants more,” Shqeirat said.

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—Video by Bayan Wang/Cronkite News

In the days following the New Zealand attack, Phoenix police officers have been encouraged to vigilantly monitor local mosques, a Phoenix Police Department spokesman said.

Two off-duty officers came to offer protection at the Tempe mosque during Jumaa Prayer, a weekly prayer service for Muslims on Fridays, he said.

Phoenix police arrested a man accused of threatening and intimidating members of a Northwest Phoenix mosque. Police said the man was taken into custody Saturday night on suspicion of trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Phoenix police said the man went into the United Islamic Center of Arizona in North Phoenix and said he was curious about the religion and asked to sit in on a prayer service. But he later entered rooms without permission and asked unusual questions about the times of services.

When questioned by one of the mosque leaders, he allegedly put a finger to his neck and made a sawing motion. Noel Becht was booked into a Maricopa County Jail.

Zara and her friend, Mira Aiche, weren’t aware of the Phoenix incident at Saturday’s vigil.

But they said they weren’t afraid to come to the mosque where they’ve prayed for years. Instead, they felt more compelled after the shootings in New Zealand. They said they noticed more people on Friday than usual.

“I went to both services,” Zara said. “I wanted to be there at the mosque, showing that we’re not afraid and this isn’t going to change anything,” she said.

In wake of the New Zealand attack, Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern vowed to change the country’s gun laws and said a Cabinet meeting was scheduled Monday to discuss reform. The gunman who opened fire at two New Zealand mosques was charged with murder Saturday.

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