U.S. Muslims Search For Solace After New Zealand Attack

Mar 16, 2019
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

After the terrorist attacks in New Zealand, American Muslims went to their own places of worship with the carnage on their minds. They're figuring out how to discuss the tragedy with their children. They're worshipping with increased security. And as NPR's Leila Fadel reports, they are searching for solace.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Prayer leaders help their communities process a massacre that happened across the world but felt so close to home - an attacker who professed a hate for Muslims in the West, immigrants and people of color, an attacker who called the American president an inspiration for his ideology. In Washington, D.C., Imam Johari Abdul-Malik reassured congregants that God has a plan.

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JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK: Know that for a fact that the world, the universe, is not out of control.

FADEL: In the face of so many mass killings, Las Vegas Imam Fateen Seifullah encouraged his congregants not to become numb. He named just a few incidents - the attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, on a black church in Charleston.

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FATEEN SEIFULLAH: Are you going to use your life to combat evil, to confront bigotry and racism and prejudice and all of those isms that stimulate and entertain individuals to make them think that it's OK to walk into sacred spaces and kill people who are worshipping God?

FADEL: At the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, Calif., Imam Ahson Syed was defiant.

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AHSON SYED: We can no longer ignore the fact that the white supremacist ideology is one of the greatest threats to mankind in modern times.

FADEL: Afterward, Halima Zakou stood outside the prayer room.

HALIMA ZAKOU: If this day stopped me from coming to the mosque, then the people who did this work, they win on us. They will be the winners.

FADEL: Muslims everywhere were making the same calculation.

HEIDI AJRAMI: So it's a little scary to go because you don't want somebody to do a copycat. On the other hand, you kind of don't want that sort of event to stop you from doing the things that you want to do.

FADEL: That's Heidi Ajrami from Victoria, Texas. Despite the fear, she went. After all, she didn't stop going when her mosque was burned to the ground in a hate crime.

AJRAMI: I wish this would stop, you know, and I don't see what the people who commit these crimes think they're accomplishing.

FADEL: At the newly rebuilt mosque, there's a policeman stationed outside every Friday, locks on the doors and a security code. On the drive there, she worries.

AJRAMI: You know, I imagine where are the doors, and, you know, where would you go if someone came in this way or that way and, you know, how would you try to get help? What would you do with your kids?

FADEL: But once she enters, she feels at peace with her community. In Princeton, N.J., Sylvia Chan-Malik was driving her younger daughter to school when the news came on the radio.

SYLVIA CHAN-MALIK: She just got very quiet, and she looked at me, and that was when it hit me that this was something that I would have to talk to her about and my other daughter about.

FADEL: So she and her husband took their daughters to the mosque. As a family, they prayed together, and they listened to the sermon. Chan-Malik's youngest daughter held her hand the whole time.

CHAN-MALIK: And it was really important for us to show our children that you are a Muslim, and it is something that sustains you. And you go to the mosque to pray and have peace and you don't let these types of events - you don't give into them and let them tell you a different story.

FADEL: She says going to the mosque is about coming together. It is not something she wants her children to fear. Leila Fadel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.