MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — About 200 people gathered at WVU’s Woodburn Circle Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil to respect and remember the victims of the Saturday attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The vigil drew people of all colors; it drew Muslims, Jews, Christians and people who profess no particular faith.
Noor Daashan, president of the Muslim Students Association and one of the organizers, said, “We thought it was very important at a time like this, when there is so much hate and fear in the world, that we need to showcase how much good there still is and how important it is to unite at a time like this.”
Fifty human beings died in the attack, she said. “It’s not about faith, it’s not about religion. This has nothing to do with just being Muslim. This affects us all.”
There was a similar vigil after the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October, she said. “We can’t let this keep happening. With the good in the world and with us uniting together, we can show the world how much good there is and we can be the change.”
WVU’s Student Government Association and Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion co-sponsored the vigil.
Joe Hample, Rabbi of Morgantown’s Tree of Life Congregation, came. He said Wednesday marked the Jewish festival of Purim, marking the foiling of a massacre of Jews in ancient Persia.
“The King of Persia writes to all his subjects in their own languages in defense of minorities,” Hample said. “Not bad, eh? We need leaders today who stand up for minorities, for those who are different or misunderstood, for those threatened by prejudice, by bigotry, by stereotypes.”
The killings happened in New Zealand, he said, but New Zealand is everywhere. “The violated mosques are our homes and our neighborhoods and our sanctuaries. Write to all people’s in their own languages and tell them an attack on any group is an attack on us all.”
Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, said she came to support her neighbors of all faiths and colors.
“We say the United States is the land of the free and the home of the brave,” she said. “Everyone looks to us to set examples. When will we be humbled enough to look to see what other countries are doing and adopt it in our own?”
Looking at the diverse crowd, she said she saw barriers being broken and people uniting. “That’s what we need more of, not just in West Virginia, not just in the United States, but around the world.”
Kip Curnutt, Imam of the Islamic Center of Morgantown, was the first of a series of speakers to address the whole crowd. He addressed the issue of evil from two perspectives: as a Muslim and as a citizen and human being.
From the religious perspective, he said, “We belong to Allah and to Allah we will return. We are not sad for those we lose. We feel sadness for ourselves because we miss those who have left us behind in this world.”
We live in a world filled with hatred and evil, he said. This should be a reminder and a wake-up call. There are people who won’t like you, who want to harm you or even kill you.
“That lets me know the value of what I have, and that I have to stay firm upon that and I have to stand up for that and I have to be willing to do whatever I have to do to never back down from that.”
From the human perspective, he noted that the killings happened in a Western city similar to those in the U.S.
“We have to admit we have problems in our society,” he said. Among them are hatred and a “white male rage” emerging from people with no purpose “except to cause death and destruction.”
“As shared citizens in this society, we want you to be here for us, and all of us try to work together to stop something like this from ever happening again,” he said, “whether it’s to the Muslims, whether it’s to the Jews, whether it’s to the Christians, whether it’s to the atheists, or whoever it may be.”