Muslim call for unity and solidary draws diverse crowd


Muslim call for unity and solidary draws diverse crowd

In an auditorium featuring women wearing hijabs, some men in turbans and others in kufis, still others with yarmulkes, and even a Pirates baseball cap and golf hat, the “rehumanizing” theme of the Muslim Call for Unity and Solidarity in the wake of the New Zealand attack on two mosques was clear.

Diversity beats separation. Love trounces fear and hatred. And, most of all, action is necessary to stamp out racism, discrimination, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and homophobia. The call included action against use-of-force laws allowing police to shoot and kill with impunity.

“So many things for so many reasons divide us, but you can see nothing but a person’s humanity when you are standing beside them,” said Alaa Mohamed, describing herself only as a Muslim who helped organize and hosted the two-hour event Sunday night at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum auditorium that drew about 500 people.

Speakers included Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life/​Or L’Simcha Congregation and other religious leaders, community activists, politicians, hip-hop artist Jasiri X, who leads anti-violence group 1Hood Media, and leaders of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

The mosque shootings on March 15 in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 dead were the event focus, but the Tree of Life slayings of 11 people and the Antwon Rose II shooting death provided undercurrent themes.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, late to the event due to travel arrangements, joined a number of state and local politicians who attended the event, with a letter from U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, read in support of the program.

But Dan Gilman, the mayor’s chief of staff, brought a standing ovation when he said “the only way a person can go in [to a house of worship] and massacre people is if he doesn’t understand their humanity,” with reference to the Christchurch and Tree of Life killings and the killing of Antwon Rose II.

“The only way you shoot a 17-year-old boy in the back is if you don’t recognize his humanity,” he said.

After the event, Mr. Peduto also weighed in on the Rose killing by noting that if his death was legal, then use-of-force laws must be changed.

On the sidewalk outside of Soldiers & Sailors’ main entrance, 50 Muslim prayer rugs were lined in rows, each supporting a white candle, all of which were lit after sundown.

Early in the program, 50 people wearing green scarves — that Safdar Khwaja, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Council on American-Islamic relations, said represent green Earth, peace and tranquility — gave the name and brief description of each Christchurch victim before placing a white rose on the front edge of the stage. It set a somber tone for an evening full of short speeches calling for action to reduce the tide of white supremacy responsible for multiple shootings in houses of worship.

On several occasions, speakers repeated themes of building bridges rather than walls, with other comments decrying locker-room talk and putting children in cages, all in direct reference to President Donald Trump and his policies.

Former skinhead singer Arno Michaelis of Serve 2 Unite and The Forgiveness Project spoke about an event he attended where children from all races and religions gathered and sang a united call for peace. He said it represented “a worst-case scenario for white supremacists.”

At the end of the event, Ms. Mohamed, the event’s organizer, echoed that idea.

“We all can give ourselves a round of applause for being white supremacists’ worst nightmare,” she said.

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