It was a room filled with hope. More than 100 people gathered at The Islamic Society of Central Jersey — clergy, emergency personnel, community leaders and friends of those who attend the South Brunswick mosque. They all came in solidarity for the 50 victims who lost their lives after a gunman opened fire at two mosques in New Zealand.
“We don’t want to talk about the perpetrator. We don’t want to say the name of the perpetrator. We want to reject that stereotype of alwayss humanizing the white perpetrator and the white supremacist. We want to completely reject that and completely ignore that and instead focus on the victims,” said event organizer Khadeeja Qureshi.
Qureshi organized the Solidarity with New Zealand event after feeling alone. Qureshi says she wanted other Muslims to know that they do matter and are supported.
“The main message of this event is to be unafraid and to have a community. And all these interfaith members here, I feel pretty safe right now. And I feel really grateful that they’re here in solidarity, and they’re also here to protect us,” she said.
“Definitely, Islamophobia has a play in this, but it’s also gun control,” said organizer Aminah Dar.
Clergy who spoke say gun control won’t fix everything and believe more needs to be done to address racism.
“This is a scourge that is in this nation. I know it is in the world, but it’s in this nation, and I want to do my part to do everything I can to dismantle the systems of white supremacy that are there, whether they’re in the heart or around in the world,” said Minister Unitarian Society Rev. Karen Johnston.
During the event, people were able to write letters to the families of victims in New Zealand. Some parents used the opportunity as a teaching moment.
“I tell them that this guy came filled with rage and hate and he wanted to tear that community apart. And look what happened, it actually brought a community together,” said organizer Aysha Khalid.
“People from emergency responders, coming and guarding this place of worship just doesn’t seem right. And I know that if I were to see that at a place that I was worshiping at, it would leave me with a really bad feeling,” said Princeton resident Talia Fiester.
But in a time when hate preys on fear, the message was clear: there was only space for hope and love in this room.