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Hundreds attend Christchurch vigil in Providence



The white supremacist terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand that left 50 dead, 50 wounded and dozens missing sparked horror and outrage across the world. The victims, which included men and women, from ages two to 71 was specifically targeted at the Muslim community and took place in a mosque and an Islamic Center.

Here in Providence, the religious community, representing Jewish, Christian, non-believers and more, gathered to support their Muslim brothers and sisters at a vigil in the parking lot of Masjid Al Kareem, the Islamic Center of Rhode Island. I estimate that around 500 people attended.

I was reminded of the vigil held outside the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island to mourn the loss of life to hate and gun violence at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh last October.

The vigil was supported by law enforcement, by local clergy of many faiths, and by elected officials such as Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.

The vigil was organized by the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement (RICMA) and overseen by Iman Farid Ansari from the Muslim American Dawah Center.

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“Throughout the world people are gathering to express their concern and to face up to this horrendous act that occurred in New Zealand,” said Iman Ansari, beginning the event.

Brother Hussein Abdi, a student at the Al-Noor Academy, recited from the Quran.

Iman Ansari then recited the names of the victims, including those killed, injured and missing.

“This past weekend we received many flowers, cards and signs from people in the community, non-Muslims,” said Iman Abdul-Latif Sackor of Masjid al-Kareem. “One of the signs read, ‘We love and support our Muslim neighbors.’ And I want to say to all of you, on this day, that we are more than neighbors. We are brothers and sisters. We are families…”

“I pray, I earnestly pray, that our legislators, and I know some of you are here, will finally get the message that assault weapons are not for the civilian population,” said the Reverend Dr Donnie Anderson from the Rhode Island Council of Churches. “We cannot allow the second amendment to offer cover for the immoral act of owning weapons whose only purpose is to kill as many human beings as possible…”

“Here we gather again in the face of hatred and violence. Barely five months after the shooting in Pittsburgh, innocent lives have again been cut down,” said Rabbi Sarah Mack from Temple Beth-El. “The Jewish community knows this pain. The Jewish community also knows how the loving embrace of friends and neighbors can heal…”

Father John Kiley of the Interfaith Diocese of Rhode Island, extended the Catholic Diocese’s support for Muslims both here and throughout the world.

“It is easy, when we reflect on that long line of violence to despair about our future,” said Rhode Island State Attorney General Peter Neronha. “So where do we find hope? I find hope in the faces of children… As I think of those young faces, I think of the future, and I think of a future where those young faces and young minds are free from the hate we see today…”

“I want to unequivocally remind all our Muslim bothers and sisters you’re safe, you are wanted, you belong, and you are needed,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza accompanied by his infant son. “You are a vital part of our community…”

“Law enforcement stands here united, in a coordinated effort, to protect people of all faiths from the hatred displayed this past weekend,” said the newly appointed Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, James Manni.

“During these times of terror in the world we pick up our vigilance,” said Providence Police Department Chief Hugh Clements. “We were here Friday, [and] we will be here over the next several weeks to provide that extra vigilance and comfort…”

“Law enforcement can’t do what it should be doing, without the community,” said Steven Paré, Providence’s Commissioner of Public Safety. “We need to speak out when hate exists in our community. There’s so many more good people in this world, in this country, and in this city…”

“I am mad because I know that the biggest threat in the United States and worldwide today is white supremacy and white nationalism,” said Jim Vincent, President of the Providence Chapter of the NAACP. “If we don’t understand that… then we’re never going to get to the solution of love defeating hate…”

Iman Ansari read a letter from Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“We’ve just documented a fourth straight year of growth in hate groups,” wrote Cohen. “And it’s no coincidence that this rise corresponds directly to the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. As we’ve previously reported, the radical right has been greatly energized by Trump and his xenophobic rhetoric…”

Dr Wendy Manchester Ibrahim of RICMA read a poem inspired by the Christchurch killings.

“When he was done he had murdered 51 people and their only crime was that they were Muslim,” said Mufti Ikram al-Huqq. “They were worshiping Allah. They were worshiping the God. All of this is painful for all of us. We all are hurt. And this pain has been going on for a while now. And we must come together to stop this bleeding of humanity. Because we are all bleeding…”

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Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.