At least 49 people killed and 40 people injured. “Dead people everywhere.” Victims as young as four years old. Immigrants. Refugees. Locals. Al Noor Musjid. Linwood Musjid. Friday congregational prayers. Our holiest day of the week. Christchurch, New Zealand.
A white supremacist. An act of terrorism. A 74-page manifesto hailing the U.S. president as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” A Facebook live video. Hundreds of bullets. Anti-Muslim racism. Xenophobia. Hate.
My heart has felt especially heavy over the past several hours for reasons I am still discovering. Part of it is perhaps the fact that the blood of my brothers and sisters in faith were shed on our day of the week when we all gather together simply to remember Our Creator. That the feeling of sitting on a prayer room rug, surrounded by my community, reflecting on the condition of my soul as I hear verses of the Qur’an being recited, the same state in which these individuals were shot and killed, is so familiar.
Yesterday afternoon before any of this transpired, I was asked to deliver the Friday sermon for a community of mine in Brooklyn. I gladly accepted, always humbled to have the opportunity to share my views on faith both with people of the same creed and other creeds.
As news continued to pour in of the massacre last night and the grief started to weigh my heart down, I struggled to conceptualize an uplifting message that I and my community needed to hear in the wake of this incident.
Although still in a state of shock and grief as so many others, I arrived to our prayer room feeling somewhat prepared to speak to my community about the horrific events in New Zealand, to expound upon a select narrative of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and to ultimately provide words of comfort and encouragement to help us move forward.
I began highlighting the key facts of the massacre and upon describing the victims involved, I could no longer hold it in. I unexpectedly and wholeheartedly began to cry in front of the congregation, feeling more in need of comfort than anyone else in that room.
The first victim of this entire attack was seen standing at the door of the musjid as the terrorist approached him. The man, with a gun pointed to his face, peacefully greets his killer with the words “hello brother.” He is immediately shot at and as he is dying, he utters “brother.”
As I type his words, I continue to tear up. I ask myself again why this attack has weighed so heavily on my heart and I realize it is because I know exactly that type of person who, even when faced with death, knows nothing else but compassion.
The Continuously Misunderstood Souls
You ask anyone who has ever been involved in or a part of any Muslim community and they will tell you know they know that type of person as well. They have lived with and interacted with them. It is the brother who will greet you when you enter the musjid, asking you how you are and willing to offer anything to ease you of your difficulties. It is the sister who will physically embrace you without ever having met you, simply because she knows everyone deserves to be met with love. It is the brother beside whom you break your fast and who will not eat nor drink until you have. It is the sister who will move to the edge of the prayer row to be squeezed against the wall just so that you could bow and prostrate in comfort. It is the brother who will hold onto your hand out of affection after meeting you for the first time, not letting go out of fear of making you feel even slightly unwelcomed. It is the sister who will open the doors of her home to you, never once questioning the length of your stay or the legitimacy of the pain you are seeking to avoid.
It is the brother who will commit to dropping you home before even knowing if you lived 20 minutes away or two hours away. It is the sister who will offer to be awoken at any time of night if it means you having someone to call when you are walking home alone. It is the brother who continues to keep you in his prayers long after you have forgotten him. It is the sister who will drop everything to visit you when you are sick, especially when her schedule does not allow for it.
It is the brothers and sisters who will demonstrate compassion and mercy, in a language you may or may not understand, even if it means they will get killed. It is not because they do not know better, but because their hearts are so deeply infused with the Light of God that they cannot bear to find fault in the creation of the Creator.
These are unfortunately the actual narratives that the masses will never learn of. The public will learn the eventual total death count of this massacre, the specific instances of heroism shown, and the communities that denounced the attack, but our community will remain misunderstood. Our identities will still be tied and reduced down to our skin color, our religious attire and our accents. Prominent well-meaning figures will denounce all forms of hate and encourage us to support the victims of the New Zealand attack, but deep down will still remain in discomfort, questioning our way of life and why we exist the way we do. The actual souls that make up these intimate spaces of prayer and community, that move physical and emotional mountains for the sake of their people, that keep fragile souls like myself grounded and firm, will continue to be miscategorized as backward, un-assimilated and above all, “not like us.”
I pray our community will not have to be massacred again for some media attention to be shed on the mercy we exude. I pray dozens of lives will never have to be taken away again in order for a mere two words of compassion to actually go viral. Deep down, I pray that I might be looking at this from a narrow perspective and that we in humanity are actually more deeply connected than it appears.
May God grant nothing but ease to the victims and their families. “Verily to God we belong and to Him we return.”