As daylight dimmed and the wind blew a little colder Saturday evening, around 200 people forming a “rainbow audience” of Muslims, Christians, and Jews held candles and voiced prayers at LOVE Park to honor the 50 people killed in two New Zealand mosques on Friday.
“We come together to let people know that no one is alone tonight,” said Jacob Bender, executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which sponsored the event. CAIR is the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. “All human blood," Bender continued, "is our blood.”
Invoking the Quran, the Bible, and the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speakers raged, called for peace, and implored God for help in understanding why an alleged right-wing racist from Australia slaughtered Muslims in the city of Christchurch.
“Tonight, we are all Muslims,” said the Rev. Mark Tyler, of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church. “We know your hurt. We know your pain. We will not let you weep or walk alone.”
Tyler then asked members of the crowd to chant — “You are not alone” — for the benefit of the Muslims of Christchurch. As they did, their voices echoed off nearby buildings, while their faces were illuminated by candles in the half-light of dusk.
Sally Baraka, Philadelphia’s commissioner of human relations, admonished the crowd to “stand up against a careless snicker or a dangerous joke that plays to stereotypes." Hateful speech can ignite hateful acts, she said, adding, “Please find an opportunity this week to spread peace.”
People in the crowd held signs with messages such as “Islamophobia = Racism” and “I am a proud American Muslim.” Many snapped photos of friends and loved ones beneath the LOVE statue.
For Ron Lusk, 63, a programmer from Glenside, showing up at the vigil with his wife, Judi, 69, was an important gesture of solidarity with Muslims.
“We were all made in the image of God,” said Lusk, who worships at New Life Presbyterian Church in Glenside. “And it’s hideous to be killed on the basis of faith. That reflects evil.”
Adab Ibrahim, outreach coordinator for Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, a local nonprofit that promotes Islamic culture, complimented the gathering, saying, “This rainbow audience gives me hope.” She added that during a time of profound grief, “coming together with friends helps us heal.”
Healing was on the mind of Arshad Amanullah, who brought his family from Collegeville to the vigil. “I was really offended by this shooting,” said Amanullah, 52, who works for a pharmaceutical company. “Things are getting worse, and we’re here to show solidarity.”
His daughter, Sanaa, 15, took to social media to express her pain and confusion over the shooting. “Days like this,” she wrote, “I regret feeling this much emotion.”
She added, "I put myself in the shoes of the ones who were shot and killed.