For many of the students, faculty and supporters who gathered Tuesday on Gullen Mall, the scene of a growing crowd of grief-stricken strangers coming together to mourn lives lost in a senseless massacre felt eerily familiar. It felt like they had been there before. In fact, many of them had.
It’s easy to forget that it was only last October when a similar ceremony took place in the same exact spot on Wayne State’s Campus to mourn a different mass shooting — one perpetrated by a different shooter but under the same ideological banner: white supremacy.
This time, mourners gathered to express their anguish, sadness and rage caused by the slaughter of 50 people killed Friday while worshiping at the Al-Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand.
As the vigil began, organizers with the Muslim Student Association handed out roses representing the life of each victim to the crowd while a passage from the Quran was read aloud in Arabic.
“Do not say of those who are slain in the way of Allah, ‘They are dead.’ Instead, they are alive, but you do not perceive it,” the Quranic passage translation read.
Former democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed addressed the crowd, emphasizing the need for people of all races, religions and identities to come together and unite against the hateful ideology that lead to the massacre.
“Fifty people who did nothing wrong but exercise their right to pray in a space together were gunned down simply for how they chose to pray,” said El-Sayed. “They were taken by people who exercise a hate, a supremacy of one identity over others — a white nationalism that we have seen, unfortunately, grow in these times. We have to remember, people come to hate what they fear and fear what they don’t know.
“We cannot let it be us versus them. It has to be us versus hate."
Imam Imran Salha of the MCM Mosque in Farmington Hills spoke of the injustice of worshipers being killed in their place of prayer — a place that represents peace and God.
“There is no worse form of injustice than when somebody who enters their house of worship to worship God in peace does not feel at peace,” the Imam said. “We need to come together in these moments and recognize what is happening in the world. If a Muslim, Christian or Jew cannot walk into their own house of worship in peace, then this means we are far away from peace in this world.”
As Imam Salha continued, he urged the crowd to draw parallels between the massacre at Christchurch and the adversity Muslims face around the world.
“In Yemen, every 20 minutes there is a Muslim who dies from cholera, a disease which can be healed for less than $20 in this country — God forgive us,” he said.
The speakers did not shy away from political speech.
“I don’t believe this administration is doing enough,” said El-Sayed. “This administration is part and parcel with white supremacist ideology. But I’m hopeful — I think we are seeing the start of a movement that is being re-energized to stand up against it.”
Sahla shared a similar sentiment.
“If we are going to come out of this, we have to hold our leadership responsible. When you are the president of the United States of America, your words have weight,” Salha said. “It is this heavy, bigotry-ridden rhetoric that lead to the Holocaust not too long ago, and that lead to the massacre in Pittsburgh not too long ago, and that lead to the Zionist occupation of Palestine and that leads to the deaths that happened in New Zealand.”
Adding, “We have to choose life with our words, not hatred or bigotry. As a great Arab poet once said: ‘If the people choose life, then destiny has no option but to respond.’”
To many mourners who were there for both the Pittsburgh shooting and the Christchurch shooting vigils, the message couldn’t be clearer. This wasn’t the first time the WSU community has gathered to mourn on Gullen Mall, and if nothing is done, it likely won’t be the last.
“Sometimes it feels like it’s getting worse,” said kinesiology student Rayhon Rana. “It’s not only about religion. We have to support our brother and sisters no matter who they are whenever something like this happens.”
Sean Taormina is The South End's breaking news and WSUPD beat reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.