By Teddy Robertson
Flint-area residents filled the Al-Rayyan Banquet Hall at Flint Islamic Center (FIC) Tuesday evening, March 18, to remember the victims of the mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15.
Dr. Luay Alkotob of the FIC community presided at the service of reflection and prayer. The welcoming message by Dr. Aisha Aslam of FIC stressed personal remembrance as she read the names of 26 of the 50 victims accompanied by photos displayed on video screens. She also read a statement of New Zealand’s Maori leaders to the Christchurch Muslims filled with Maori expressions of support and solidarity.
Representatives from Methodist, Interfaith Ministries, Jewish, and Lutheran communities shared messages of condolence and support with some 400 people attending. Additional chairs were added to the rows that flanked the octagonal marble star at the center of the floor of the hall.
Acknowledging the presence of Clayton Township Sheriff Charlotte Brown, Dr. Alkotob thanked Sheriff Brown and her department for protection, saying, “You are always with us.”
Opening the series of speakers, Rev. Dr. Julius DelPino, of the Grand Blanc United Methodist Church, cited the prophet Amos, “Let justice roll down as waters and righteousness as an everflowing stream.” He encouraged listeners “to never give up on hope,” adding, “Our responsibility is to expand the circle of those committed to social justice.”
Rev. Laurie Smith DelPino, an interfaith minister, read greetings from Dr. Diane Berke of the One Spirit Learning Alliance that spoke of “the whole human family, the family of the earth.” DelPino also offered an interfaith prayer for peace.
Speaking for Flint’s three Jewish congregations, Leonard Meizlish, president of Congregation Beth Israel, recalled the presence of Imam Abdullah Waheed and many Muslims at last year’s vigil at Temple Beth El for the Tree of Life synagogue victims in Pittsburgh. Meizlish noted that Jewish and Muslim traditions share a common expression:
“It is said that ‘whoever destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed the entire world; and whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the entire world’. ” (Surah 5:32; Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)
“At too many times recently,” Meizlish said, “it seems that the world is being destroyed; we of the faith communities must try, instead, to work and save it. To do and say nothing as vile words and actions of militant and radical activists are allowed to infect society is an abdication of individual responsibility.”
Martin Barillas read a letter from Steven Low, executive director of the Flint Jewish Federation who had been unable to attend. Low’s letter recalled his arrival in Flint eight years ago when the Muslim community had welcomed him and his wife. Now, as at the time of the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, the two communities were drawn together again. “I wish that our occasions could be happy ones instead of once again tragic,” he wrote. Low’s letter urged listeners to “unite to oppose those who seek elevate themselves at the expense of others . . . . to overcome the fear that feeds their hate. . . . Make a commitment to unite and do that now.”
Pastor Nathan Allen of the Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Grand Blanc noted that the season of Lent is a call to the followers of Jesus to be more expansive in the ways of love. “Love is more powerful than hate or white supremacy,” he said. He cited a pastoral message from presiding bishop Elizabeth Eaton to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and closed with a prayer for protection of the Muslim community in New Zealand and around the world.
The last guest speaker of the vigil, David Stanley of the Genesee Academy, challenged the audience to action, asking, “What can we do against the cowards of hate?” With Dr. Luay Alkotob standing beside him, Stanley offered practical action:
“We must stand together; with resolve and calm and unity between faiths and genders and orientation. We must be vigilant. When we hear threats of violence against any of our marginalized citizens, we must report it. When we see threats become action, we must stand, literally, with the oppressed. Take photos. Video. Report these actions, large or small, to the authorities and the media.
We must provide support. . . support those who have been terrorized by the cowards of hate.
We must have our voices heard. We must flood the world with the magnitude of our solidarity. Social media, the traditional media, over the backyard fence and at the barber shop and beauty salon and the local pub – everywhere – we must speak out at every turn against hate in all its ugly forms.”
After a video of people around the world standing outside mosques with signs of support, FIC Imam Abdullah Waheed expressed his surprise at how many turned out for the vigil. “We didn’t expect this much support; it is remarkable to see the love and support,” he said.
Waheed’s message stressed people’s common humanity, people who “care for one another—this is what the perpetrator did not want to see. We are humanity before we are members of any religion. We are people with emotions and feeling.”
Waheed turned to the challenge of reaching out to those who do not share the sentiments expressed at the vigil, because “hate is heard when love is silent.”
“We do not want to see this happen again, but the reality is that we know it will . . . The solution is to educate the ignorant, come out of our comfort zone. Talk to others, remove skepticism,” he said.
Alkotob ended the evening by asking the audience to remember first that they have done a wonderful thing to come and show support, and second, to talk to others and educate them. “And finally, visit us again and we will try to visit you.”
Banner photo by Paul Rozycki.
EVM staff writer and columnist Teddy Robertson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.