Gathered near the Academic Mall fountain on Tuesday night, a crowd of about 100 people listened as senior health science major Sarah Zaidi told the stories of two of the 50 victims killed in the recent terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“A young, 16-year-old boy by the name of Hamza Mustafa, and his father Khaled Mustafa, were the first two of the 50 buried last Wednesday,” Zaidi, representing Stony Brook’s Muslim Students Association at the vigil, said. “They had fled Syria, they had fled a civil war in their country, being told only a few months ago that New Zealand was ‘the safest country in the world, and the most wonderful country you can go to.’”
The crowd held candles as they listened to Hamza’s story in a silence punctuated by sobs, while a cold wind blew in from the direction of the setting sun. They stood, united, in chilly weather, to honor fallen worshippers half a planet away and offer solace to one another.
Zaidi told the mourning masses how the Mustafas settled in New Zealand as refugees after being turned away from a new start in the United States. She spoke of how they met their ends in a house of God, while Hamza’s mother was on the phone, as the boy sacrificed himself to save his younger brother.
“Sixteen-year-old Hamza was with his 13-year-old younger brother Zaid, dragging him to safety after he had been shot in the leg,” Zaidi said. “He was also simultaneously on the phone with his mother Salwa in Jordan. She heard screaming, gunshots, loud noises in the background and then all of the sudden everything went quiet. She stayed on the line, calling out Hamza’s name. Imagine the heartbreak of this mother, imagine the heartbreak of all the families, friends, neighbors and loved ones of all the killed and injured victims.”
Junior health science major Cameron Avery, a Christchurch native and one of just nine Stony Brook students from New Zealand, thanked his fellow students for the support they have shown in the wake of the shootings and took a moment to speak for his country at the vigil.
“The act that brought everybody here today was one that was designed to drive everybody apart,” Avery said. “It was designed to inspire discord, and it used hate with the purpose of breeding further hate. And I think I speak on behalf of my city and my entire country when I say that we love you, and we thank you for being out here today, for showing him that he was wrong.”
Dean of Students Jeff Barnett quoted the Prophet Muhammad: “When one part of the body suffers, the whole body aches,” he said, his voice cracking beneath the weight of her words. “Likewise, when one part of our community suffers, our whole community aches. We are one singular community here at Stony Brook, we are Seawolves. We stand together in humanity and with each other.”
The Undergraduate Student Government (USG)-sponsored vigil featured faith leaders from Stony Brook’s Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities, each of whom echoed a message of peace and unity for the grieving onlookers.
“Tonight I think that, a son of Abraham, and my colleagues and brothers and sisters who are sons and daughters of Ibrahim, the same person, when we feel a tragedy like that we all feel it,” Rabbi Joseph Topek, director of Stony Brook’s Hillel Foundation, said. “It could have been one of us, thank God it wasn’t. An innocent person at prayer, who was murdered simply because of who they are. That should be a lesson to all of us, we were reminded poisonous rhetoric poisons minds and it leads people to commit heinous acts.”
The Stony Brook Pipettes sang an a capella medley of songs like “Waiting on the World to Change” and “Same Love,” before USG Vice President of Academic Affairs Nicole Olakkengil capped off the vigil with a final call for change.
“Thank you all for coming out,” Olakkengil said. “Change starts within our own communities and branches out. And it’s times like these when it’s of utmost importance to remember that in the face of hate we have to stand united, not divided.”