Fifty people were killed in two consecutive shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday. In the wake of the shootings, the Johns Hopkins University Muslim Association (JHUMA) hosted a vigil on Sunday evening to stand in solidarity with those affected by the violence.
Attendees gathered on the Beach, held candles and listened to JHUMA members and speakers, including University Chaplain Kathy Schnurr, Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Moses Davis, Rabbi Eric Abbott and Islamic Studies Lecturer Homayra Ziad. Organizers ended the event by calling on attendees to observe maghrib, the Muslim prayer after sunset.
Ruzicka emphasized the importance of remembering the lives lost during the attack and of standing in solidarity with the Muslim communities both at Hopkins and in Christchurch.
“These 50 people were children, daughters and sons. They were fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, partners, wives and husbands. They were all precious and gone too soon,” she said. “I stand in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters around the world who deal with Islamophobia everyday. I stand in solidarity with all my brothers and sisters who are targets of hate, bigotry, prejudice and bias.”
Schnurr expressed a similar sentiment, thanking every member of the Hopkins and Baltimore community who attended the vigil.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder in vigil to honor and remember those who were killed at the Christchurch New Zealand Mosques on Friday afternoon,” Schnurr said. “Our hearts are broken that hate-fueled terrorism has once again violated our sacred community and our sacred humanity.”
She went on to explain the significance of the candles that attendees used during the vigil. Candles, Schnurr said, were meant to serve as an expression of mourning for the victims of the shooting.
“We are lighting candles as a means of bringing light into the darkness — light into the darkness of our fears, light into the darkness of our divisions,” she said.
Next, Davis read a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson titled “Since thou hast given me this good hope, O God.” Through the poem, Davis emphasized the importance of hope in times of tragedy.
“It only takes one of us to affect one more. So I ask you all to please, even in times like this, to take hold of your hope. We need you here, we need your spirit, we need your love,” he said. “So I challenge you, please, don’t lose sight of that.”
Davis emphasized that although there may be anger following the shooting, this anger should not turn into violence.
Abbott, the senior Jewish educator at Hopkins Hillel, spoke about the importance of hope. Abbott drew comparisons between the vigil on Sunday and one held a few months ago. He had led a similar vigil at the Beach in solidarity with the victims of a shooting in October that killed 11 when a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Abbott noted that at both events there was anger and sadness but also hope.
“Back then, just as tonight, there was a glimmer of hope — a community that comes together not in spite of their differences but because of them. A community that says, ‘It does not matter where you come from or what you believe, but we are all human beings who are worthy of dignity and respect, life and love.’ I’m grateful to the Muslim community for supporting the Jewish community back then, and I hope we can do the same,” he said.
Next, Islamic Studies Lecturer Homayra Ziad reflected on her experience as a Muslim college student during 9/11. She explained that minority students experience unique burdens that are under-acknowledged on college campuses.
In light of the shooting, Ziad called on attendees to commit to having serious and difficult conversations about Islamophobia and other forms of hate.
“At times like this, as an educator, I feel it is our duty to raise questions about what it really means to hold to the ideals of pluralism in campus life. How can a university best support the formation of students under duress, whose identity is performed in response to public scrutiny?” she said.
Sophomore JHUMA member Sana Kamboj, who helped organize the vigil, closed out the speaking portion of the event. She emphasized that the shooting was an act of terror motivated by white supremacy.
“It is time for all of us to recognize white supremacy and the alternative right movement as a real mobilized threat to human coexistence. Until now, we as a society have ignored this threat, dismissing them as a tiny fringe group or as trolls,” she said. “After so many acts of terrorism by people with this ideology, it is clear that this is not the case. There are people who believe these things, and we cannot allow them to continue espousing their hatred unchecked.”
In an interview with The News-Letter after the vigil, Kamboj said that she was surprised by the number of people who partook in the vigil, especially given that many students are off-campus for spring break. She noted that many people volunteered to organize the event in such a short time.
Junior Katie Smith attended the vigil because she believes that the repercussions of the shootings reverberate beyond the Muslim community to humanity itself.
“I am not a Muslim, I don’t have that many Muslim friends, but this is something that affects people in general,” she said.
School of Medicine student Cera Hassinan grew up in a Muslim family, and sought to give and receive support from those who gathered.
“I came out today to stand in support of my Muslim brothers and sisters. Growing up Muslim, you face Islamophobia. It is definitely something that is at the back of your mind,” she said.
Kamboj called on members of the Hopkins community who attended the vigil to continue to work toward combating racism and bigotry.
“We don’t want this to be the end of the conversation. We hope to move forward and engage in dialogue with the student population, the Baltimore community and the University as a whole to find a way forward to make a better future for us,” she said. “We hope this is just the beginning.”