Samuel Northrup, Editor-In-Chief
A group of 50 students, faculty and local community members came together for a candlelight vigil in Strebel on Monday, April 8, to honor the 50 victims of the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand.
For seniors Sania Safdar and Hamza Ditta, the event’s organizers, the vigil was an opportunity to bring members of the community together in an act of remembrance and solidarity — to show that “we are all human.”
“When we hear about someone else being affected by an event like this, especially during a time of prayer and unity, it does not mean we weren’t affected miles away,” Safdar said. “We need to show faith, not only for Islam but for all other religions.”
The event opened with remarks from Safdar and Ditta, followed by an Islamic prayer. Ashraf Elazzazi, a professor of physical therapy at UC, then led a brief discussion on hate speech versus free speech and the dangers of indifference when atrocities like the Christchurch shooting occur.
Elazzazi explained “words matter” and that inaction by bystanders was what led to the mass persecution and killing of minorities in events like the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide.
“Get to know the other,” he said. “If the other is unknown to you, you can easily demonize or make the other an enemy as opposed to a friend. Please, get to know us (Muslims) and who we are.”
While Elazzazi still remains saddened a month after the Christchurch shooting, he said that he is encouraged by the gestures of support he has been given by people in and around the Utica area.
“People come from all different faiths and backgrounds, but everyone is here [at Utica College] to support that we are all one,” Elazzazi said. “It does not matter your ethnicity, your skin color, your gender; none of this matters, the only thing that does is who you are as a person.”
Following Elazazzi’s discussion, those in attendance were given a chance to openly reflect on the March shooting. President Laura Casamento, the first to speak, emphasized the importance of unity at UC in the wake of tragic local, national and world events.
“We are all one community, we are one family and we really need to love and support each other,” Casamento said.
Among those in attendance was Deacon Paul Lehmann, a chaplain at UC. After the event, Lehmann said that he “feels the pain of loss” from the New Zealand shooting. He explained that it is important for people to come together as fellow humans in times of tragedy and say, “‘I care about you, and I feel the pain, too.’”
By coming together to talk about faith, Lehmann explained, people can better connect and understand one another.
“The more we can talk about our faiths, the more we find out that we have so much in common,” Lehmann said. “When you find out and learn from each other, you find out we may have slight differences but we all have love and compassion for one another.”
Senior Mike Palmieri echoed Lehmann’s sentiments about connecting on a human level, saying that an attack on any faith is “inhumane.”
“I’m a Catholic, but in my opinion, no one should go to a church or a mosque and be killed for something they believe in,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what religion you follow, we’re still human beings at the end of the day.”
Palmieri put his reasoning for showing support for the Muslim community in terms of the principles and teachings of his own faith.
“‘Love thy neighbor as you love yourself,’” he said. “It’s encapsulated in one phrase, that’s what it comes down to.”
Senior Michael Delia said it is important to “focus on everything that brings us together,” especially during a time when there is “so much focus on what makes us different.”
“It’s not a Christian thing, it’s not an Islamic thing, it’s not a Jewish thing,” Delia said. “We need to be able to wrap our arms around our brothers and sisters and be able to unite each other.”
With such a large, diverse group in attendance, Safdar and Ditta said they were both overwhelmed by the support they received at the event.
“We had people from all backgrounds come together for this,” Safdar said. “My heart is full just to see that everyone is here and showing support. Your faith should not be what makes you different from someone; as long as you’re a good human, that’s all that matters.”
Ditta explained that continuing to discuss the Christchurch shooting helps to ensure the suffering of that tragic day in March is not forgotten and lets it be known that the Muslim community at UC can feel accepted and welcomed.
“If we don’t ever talk about it, we never know how to move forward,” Ditta said. “When events like this happen, [no matter who did it,] people just automatically assume their whole race or whole religion did that. I think we just need to come together and talk about what has actually happened and celebrate the lives of victims who passed away so they’re always remembered.”