‘They’re going to answer to God, not us’: SC Muslim leaders want peace after NZ attack

Members of the local Muslim community gathered Friday for the customary lunchtime prayer service, Jummah. But the mood was different.

Overnight, at least 49 people were killed by a terrorist while they attended Jummah in Christchurch, New Zealand. One of the men claiming responsibility for the New Zealand killing spree cited Charleston shooter Dylann Roof in an alleged white supremacist, anti-immigrant manifesto posted on social media.

Now Muslim communities around the world are grappling with the feeling that they and many other faith communities have struggled with in recent years — not being safe in what is supposed to be a sacred space.

Last night, Hafiz Bashir was watching the news and he saw what happened: Dozens of his Muslim brothers and sisters shot while attending worship, and parts of it livestreamed across the internet. He was horrified.

“When I looked at the video, I was crying ... they were shooting one by one, the mothers and the children, and they’re crying,” Bashir said.

But Bashir has seen this before. He has been the imam of Masjid Noor-Ul-Huda for almost 11 years and he is from Pakistan, so attacks on Muslims are tragic, but not unexpected, he said.

Bashir said the mosque’s members have been communicating via WhatsApp all Friday morning, expressing their concern. He tries to bring the community together by changing his lecture at Friday’s Jummah service to make it about peace.

When a terror attack happens, he said, Muslims cannot give the terrorist satisfaction by responding with fear or hatred.

“You have to read the mindset of the people who are doing that ... Their mission is what? They want to scare people, that’s what they want. And they want to see the reaction,” Bashir said.

The masjid’s board president, Chaudry Sadiq, said the Muslim community needs to continue being vigilant and continue connecting with people of other faith traditions. As president of the Peace and Integration Council of North America, Sadiq believes solidarity between members of different communities is imperative, especially in the face of tragedy.

“Interfaith communication, interfaith dialogue and interfaith cooperation is highly essential,” he said. “The struggle between good and evil continues, so people of good cause and good mind and good standing need to stand by each other.”

Sadiq said multiple members of the interfaith community he has worked to form reached out to him Friday and offered condolences and support.

Sadiq and Bashir, as well as other local mosque leaders, said they have taken precautions and established good rapport with law enforcement in the past several months. There is at least one parked police vehicle at Masjid Noor-Ul-Huda, Bashir said.

Columbia Police Department spokesperson Jennifer Timmons said the officers who are on regular patrol will monitor the Islamic Center of Columbia, or Masjid al-Muslimiin. The Richland County Sheriff’s Department has increased patrol, a spokesperson said, and the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department is keeping track of requests for added security. Most Midlands mosques are in Richland County.

Yet at the Islamic Center that Columbia police are watching, members gathered outside the main building and ate a meal after the service ended around 2:30 p.m. Friday. Habeeb Abdullaah, 67, said members will likely come and go from the center until midnight.

He said he’s been a member of the masjid since it opened, in the 80s. The center became respected, and known by the surrounding community for being a place where people could go if they needed help, according to Abdullaah.

Although the situation in New Zealand is devastating for many, he said terrorism against Muslims is “something that’s ongoing,” and followers of Islam need to do their part, be steadfast in their faith and push for equity in order to address the underlying causes.

“Putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound, that’s not going to do it,” he said.

It’s estimated that less than 1 percent of the adult population of South Carolina is Muslim, but Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world.

Sadiq and Bashir said they will advise their mosque members to take the high road and turn their fears into prayer. Though New Zealand is far away, the impact of such an attack is felt strongly at a mosque in Columbia.

“We are going to pray for them...for the families. It’s what we can do. They’re far but we can do something for them,” Bashir said. “And we can condemn the act ... They’re going to answer to God, not us.”