Fifty-one white luminarias, with the name of each victim, lined the front of the outdoor podium Wednesday as speakers from the community shared their grief and showed solidarity with the victims of the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shootings.
The memorial service, co-sponsored by the UA Muslim Student Association and the University Religious Council, brought the Tucson mayor and an interfaith panel to share their thoughts on the tragedy with a gathering of about 100 people.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild spoke about past shootings at religious establishments in the U.S. and Canada. He shared the names and ages of some of the victims in Christchurch, including a 3-year-old boy and a woman who saved lives.
Husna Ahmad helped others, including children, escape before returning to rescue her husband, who is in a wheelchair, the mayor said. “She was killed. Her husband survived.”
The mayor emphasized the need for people to commit to “truth, reason, love” in order to defeat hatred and the false sense of power it creates.
A panel discussion, composed of community leaders from local religious denominations, shared their views on how to create an understanding among different cultures. They recorded messages of condolences for the victims as well.
Kamel Didan, a UA associate professor from Tunisia, stressed the need for people to communicate with each other and to share their experiences.
“Talk to that person. Let them tell you their stories,” Didan said. “That's the only way we can survive as humanity is when we get to know each other.”
After the discussion, the Rev. Bailey Pickens, a Presbyterian minister on the panel, said the vigil could show the public that people “belong to one another as human beings.”
“One of the most important things we can do is come together when someone is in pain,” Pickens said.
Bryan Davis, executive director of the Jewish History Museum, noted how significant gatherings like the vigil could create partnerships among diverse groups.
“It was a very diverse sort of cross section of … [the] U of A community and the broader community,” Davis said. “These are moments of planting seeds for deeper relationships to grow from.”
Alisha Zudi, a chemistry student from Malaysia, said they hoped the memorial service created solidarity among all religious denominations and would show Islam as “a beautiful religion.”
“I hope that this event will spread awareness towards society, especially people in America, that Islam is not terrorism,” Zudi said.
The service drew to a close with an “Athaan,” a Muslim call to prayer. About 35 men and women prostrated on the lawn toward Mecca and recited the Maghrib Prayer in the twilight.
“We at the university in Tucson, Arizona, the U.S., we do sense what took place up in New Zealand,” Didan said. “We share their grief and hope they'll find a way to move forward and fight this nonsense.”
Tyson Hudson is a graduate student in the University of Arizona School of Journalism