Hassan Faye recites a passage from the Quran during a meeting of various religious communities on Sunday, April 15, 2019, to commemorate the March 15 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo: Marlon A. Walker/MARLON.WALKER@AJC.COM)

Remembering mosque shooting victims, group seeks hate crime bill

Near the end of a unity gathering Sunday to mark the one-month anniversary of the mass shootings at two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques that left dozens dead, the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta issued a call for legislators to pass a religious hate crime bill.

About 100 people from more than a dozen interfaith groups came together to remember the tragedy while urging their respective communities to action, suggesting that feelings of encouragement from the 90-minute service should translate to more community involvement.

“That good feeling is worth nothing if you do nothing with it,” said Nabile Safdar of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta. “Take that good feeling and get involved. Do something to improve something.”

Fifty people were killed and several dozen more were injured in Christchurch the afternoon of March 15 at the Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre. New laws in New Zealand banning military-style weapons went into effect this past week.

Safdar, in pushing for a hate crime bill, noted that Georgia was one of several states without one on the books, and that religious-based hate crimes increased 23 percent nationwide in 2017.

The service included messages of unity from the various groups, as well as reading the names of those killed in the mass shootings. The service also spotlighted those killed in mass shootings in recent years, including Parkland, Florida, whre 17 were killed at a high school in 2018, and a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were killed during a prayer service in 2015.

Ian Latham, honorary Consul of New Zealand, said his nation of about 5 million people includes about 200 ethnicities.

“That’s why the events of a month ago hurt even more,” he said. “We’re a multicultural society, and we’re proud of it. That quiet Friday afternoon has become the darkest of our days. My honor today, on behalf of New Zealanders, is to thank you for standing with it.

“Like you, we pray for those who were lost, those who were hurt and will never be the same, those who love and care for them and all New Zealanders.”

Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple remembered the victims as pillars of their own communities, mosques and families.

“When evil darkens our world, let us be bearers of light,” he said. “In places where no one acts like a human being, let us bring courage, let us bring compassion, let us bring humanity.”

On Sunday, April 15, 2019, about 100 people from more than a dozen interfaith groups came together at Al Farooq Masjid to remember the mass shootings in New Zealand a month earlier. (Marlon A. Walker/MARLON.WALKER@AJC.COM)

Khalid Saddiq of the Al-Farooq Masjid mosque said people are created with inherent goodness at their core.

“It is sad that it takes tragedies like the one in New Zealand to bring that goodness into the open,” he said. “It is ironic that it takes the tearing apart of the heart to bring bodies together. But we have come together, and I’m proud to be part of this interfaith gathering.”

Rabbi Joshua Lesser recalled the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which brought together Atlanta’s various faith communities with the purpose of getting to know each other. He called coming together once more “planting seeds of light,” and urged people to plant those seeds where they would grow.

“We are saying there is something important about this city and community and our faith,” he said. “We are saying we want to invest in a future that will be different for our children and the generation that will come after them. So I invite us to think about that future.”

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