Unity marks interfaith vigil honoring Muslim terror victims

Unity marks interfaith vigil honoring Muslim terror victims [Debe Campbell/AJP)

Tucson community members attended a vigil at the Muslim Community Center of Tucson on Monday to express solidarity and commemorate the 50 people killed in the March 14 shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Another 50 people were wounded in the shootings. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild spoke on behalf of Tucson, and Rabbi Thomas Louchheim, representing the local Jewish community, was one of seven local religious leaders from the Northwest Multifaith Fellowship speaking at the vigil. Imam Watheq Alobaidi, Ph.D., hosted the event.

“Terrorists have no religion,” Alobaidi told the audience. “All religions invite human beings to be good and build a world of love, compassion, and peace. All the prophets and messiahs have the same message,” from Adam to Abraham to Isaac … to Jesus and Mohammed, “for human beings to serve only one God, the creator of this universe. We need all the community together to have unity and strength.” 

“Words and images have been weaponized to spread hate, to infect others with the poisonous ideology of white supremacy and hatred of the other,” said Rothschild. “Hate is a powerful emotion. It can make a person feel powerful. But it can be defeated by societies that are committed to truth, reason, and love — by individuals who are committed to truth, reason, and love.”

Other speakers included Father Mario Mariano, Bishop Steve Nicholls, Rev. John Angiulo, Christian Science practitioner Loren Mayhew, Jesse McManus of the Baha’i faith, and Pastor Glenn Barteau.

About 700, including many of the Jewish faith, packed the center’s gymnasium, with standing room only, for the two-hour evening observance. A bell rang as each of 50 candles were lit, and names read aloud. The unifying message from each speaker was a condemnation of terrorism and the spreading of fear, encouragement to come together to know and welcome neighbors, sharing commonalities instead of differences between human beings, and, overwhelmingly, to focus on love.

MCCT interfaith dialogue leader Ayaz Malik opened the evening, sharing facts to refute myths about Islam. He related an anecdote of a Muslim family accosted on the street, told to “Go back home.” The 8-year-old child responded, “I don’t want to go back home, Daddy, I thought we were going out to eat.” MCCT board member Maqsood Ahmed noted that members of the Muslim diaspora who worship at the center come from 40 different countries of origin. “The accusation by some in the world is that Muslims who look like they come from somewhere else are ‘others’ and are not welcome,” Louchheim told the AJP. “This is their home. Many are U.S. citizens, and they chose this place as their home.

“The Muslim community came together for our vigil [on Oct. 29 for the victims of the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh] and brought flowers and notes of support,” Louchheim noted. “Our [Tucson] Jewish and Muslim communities have become close over the past 25 years. It is something we’ve fostered in an important way, especially since 9/11. The most important thing is that we’ve come together many times, fortunately not always after devastation.”

“We hope we will never need to meet for another vigil,” says Oshrat Barel, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona vice president of community engagement. “This vigil was powerful, with a genuine sense of togetherness. The words of all of the religious leaders were profound and inspired all the attendees to leave, not only with prayers and thoughts but to act even with small gestures, toward our neighbors.

“I am proud of our Jewish community and rabbis. I recognized so many of them at the vigil, who came to support our Muslim friends and partners,” Barel continues. “Both Imam Watheq and our Synagogue-Federation Dialogue members agree we need to do more to promote in-depth, multi-faith understanding.”

Louchheim said that eighth grade students from Temple Emanu-El, Or Chadash, and Congregation Chaverim each year meet Muslim youth to get to know each other and visit each other’s houses of worship. “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are very closely related. The students are surprised they have so much in common.”

He told AJP that the Synagogue-Federation Dialogue also is fostering greater dialogue among Tucson’s religious communities, with many things happening behind the scenes, including plans for a panel of interfaith speakers at an area evangelical church in May.

The third annual Northwest Tucson Interfaith Celebration of Unity and Prayer, Gratitude Summit in the Desert, held at MCCT on March 7, actually set the stage for the vigil with the same group of interfaith leaders, says Ahmed. The group’s next gathering will be an interfaith community potluck picnic, “Becoming One in Faith and Gratitude,” open to the public, on Saturday, March 30, noon to 3 p.m. at Canada del Oro Riverfront Park, Bobcat Ramada, 551 N. Lambert Lane in Oro Valley. To RSVP and sign up to bring food, go to https://bit.ly/2Whpmet.