Champaign-Urbana Remembers Those Killed In Christchurch Attacks
Dozens of community members of all faiths filled the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center in Urbana Wednesday evening to commemorate the lives of those killed in the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty people died after a gunman opened fire during Friday prayers at two mosques there last week.
Salma El-Naggar, 17, helped organize the interfaith vigil in Urbana. “It’s important to mourn and commemorate the lives that were lost,” El-Naggar said. “This was a horrific event, lots of people have lost their lives in a place of worship.”
Photos of those killed in the Christchurch attack were displayed on a screen at the front of the mosque during the vigil, as some in attendance shed tears. A story of the first victim, Haji Daoud al-Nabi, who was a prominent figure in the Christchurch community and who had emigrated from Afghanistan, was particularly symbolic of the message of Islam, El-Naggar said. When a terrorist, who police believe was motivated by white extremism, stormed the mosque, Nabi greeted him by saying, “Hello, brother,” moments before he was shot.
“What’s heartbreaking, but also inspirational, is that Nabi embodied the true values of Islam in that moment,” El-Naggar said. “In Islam, we are taught to welcome one another regardless of race, class, religion or gender.”
Organizers of the vigil also thanked the Champaign-Urbana community for their messages of support, cards and flowers after the news broke of the attack in Christchurch. Flowers and sympathy cards sent by local Christian churches were on display near the entrance of the mosque as visitors entered Wednesday evening.
“People like you make the pain much less,” Waleed Jasim, a member of the Central Illinois Mosque, told the group during the vigil as he held back tears. “We’re all in pain. But you’re available to make things much better. And we are very fortunate to have people like you.”
Speakers at the vigil also shared a message about the importance of condemning extremism in all its forms, and that the recent attacks in mosques, churches and synagogues cannot be tolerated, or come to be considered a normal part of life.
"The mosque is a place that we consider safe - where we come to eat together, meet together, pray together,"El- Naggar said. "It's terrifying that they were killed during Friday prayers, one of the holiest days of the week for us. It was important that we recognize and commemorate their lives."