When sophomore Shifa Dandia heard the news of the terrorist attack on the two Christchurch mosques in New Zealand, she thought of her family friend who had just moved there after feeling unsafe in Pakistan. At first, Dandia was also scared for her own safety.
“When I heard this I was like, ‘I don’t know if we’re safe anywhere,’” she said.
Dandia, who serves as the Public Relations Chair for Knox’s Islamic Club, quickly felt comforted by the outpouring of support, both at Knox and in the media. She and other Islamic Club exec members organized a vigil for the 50 Muslims who were killed. With the help of Director of Spiritual Life Monica Corsaro as well as the Knox College Choir, members of Islamic Club held the vigil on March 22.
Participants gathered on the Gizmo patio, where they were given candles. Upon moving into the Oak Room, Islamic Club members recited several verses from the Quran.
Dandia recited a small verse, which she said is traditionally recited when one visits a grave site. Islamic Club President and junior Musa Khan said that the recitation of the first chapter of the Quran is Islamic tradition. The verse has the function of glorifying their God as well as honoring past souls.
“It was an emotional time but I think it felt good because there were a lot of people there and they were all supportive,” Khan said.
The recitations were also emotional for Dandia, who felt that junior Farid Freyha’s recitation of the verses in Arabic was especially powerful.
“I was sad before, but during the vigil I think I felt more sad because it was making me realize more,” Dandia said. “And then when I heard [Freyha] recite the verses in Arabic it really hit me at that moment. I felt very sad, I guess.”
Assistant Professor of Classics Hilary Lehmann was happy to hear mostly student voices among the large group that gathered. While she found that the event brought people of different faiths together, she wishes this intermingling of faiths could happen more often, in less tragic contexts.
“In our country there’s a lot of division based on the religions people practice and follow and the gods that we worship,” Lehmann said. “It’s awful that it takes a tragedy to get us to remember our shared humanity and values. I wish that we could come together like this for happier occasions.”
Among the speakers, Lehmann was particularly moved by Galesburg resident Naomi Law, who spoke about grabbing people by the hand and getting to know and love one another.
“She took the student by the hand and kind of put into practice the things that she was talking about,” Lehmann said.
Khan, too, found Law’s words to be supportive and powerful, and that they brought a positive light on a dark situation.
Law, after the vigil, spoke about her hope for the next generation. She feels that younger people will learn from the mistakes of this generation.
“You inherited what we made, we older people did this,” Law said. “What I’m worried about is the inheritance that we leave you. What I’m suggesting is you young people are our answers … you take our mistakes and don’t make the same ones.”
Both Dandia and Khan have taken the responsibility of acting as a leader to younger Muslim students on campus. Dandia mentioned how, as a new member of Islamic Club exec, the club provided her much support as a younger student. Khan, as an upperclassmen and Islamic Club president, hopes that students feel like they can come to him for support.
“Me, a junior, I kind of feel responsible for some of the younger people on campus — that I can kind of show them that I’m supportive, they can come to me whenever they want and they can talk to me,” Khan said.
Dandia and Khan hope that the vigil sent a message to Muslim students expressing that they are not alone, and that the Knox community welcomes and supports them.
“It was a symbol for Muslim students that the rest of the community, rest of Knox is with you,” Dandia said.