The 50 victims of a terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand were honoured at a commemoration event at Richmond’s Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre Sunday evening.
Mahmood Jaffer, spokesperson for Az-Zahraa, said their hall was full with 300 to 400 people who came to pay their respects and stand in solidarity with Richmond’s Muslim community.
“It’s never an easy thing,” he said. “It felt very good. I felt a lot of, obviously, support. But at the same time I felt there was a lot of resolve … to reflect on why is this happening, and why does it continue to happen.”
On Thursday night Pacific Time, news broke of a shooter in who killed 50 people and injured 50 more during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The nation’s prime minister has since condemned the terror attack, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau followed suite.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) March 19, 2019
On Sunday, the victims’ names and faces played were displayed on a slideshow at Az-Zahraa while prayers, poetry and speeches were read. Fifty empty prayer mats also lay in the hall, each labelled with one of their names.
Az-Zahraa’s Shaykh Murtaza Bachoo spoke about the brave and compassionate final acts of some of the victims, including Daoud Nabi, whose last words were “hello, brother. Welcome,” as the shooter entered the first mosque, according to local media reports.
“We are inspired by their strength, and we speak today of their strength,” Bachoo said. “For this is not a moment of weakness for us. It is a moment of sadness, yes. But it is a moment that demonstrates the spirit, the soul and the confidence of the believer.”
Then he turned to reflect on the current climate of Islamophobia in Western nations like New Zealand
“The gun was shot on Friday. But the trigger was pulled years before then,” he said.
He suggested anti-Muslim sentiments espoused by Donald Trump and other politicians could have emboldened the white supremacist shooter to carry out his violent act.
“The goal of Islamophobia is not only to kill Muslims or to hurt them. The goal of Islamophobia is to make us fear being Muslims. Fear practicing Islam. Fear not being proud of who we are.”
Canada was rocked by a mosque shooting in Quebec City in January 2017 that left six dead and 19 injured. Az-Zahraa has lent its voice to those calling for a national day against Islamophobia on the anniversary of that shooting.
“I think we’d be naïve to say these types of (far right, white supremacist) ideologies are not existing here,” Jaffer said.
Fatima Aziz from Muslim Youth in Motion called on non-Muslims to stand in solidarity with their community.
“We are in pain and what we need now more than ever are unwavering allies,” she said. “We need you to speak up and denounce, unequivocally, all forms of Islamophobia.”
After words from other faith leaders from Richmond’s Presbyterian Church, Beth Tikvah congregation and Sikh Gurdwara, attendees moved outside for a candlelight vigil.