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Murdered in New Zealand, mourned in Denver

A picture among flowers and tributes near Al Noor mosque on March 18, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Carl Court/Getty)

A picture among flowers and tributes near Al Noor mosque on March 18, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Carl Court/Getty)

We really appreciate you coming. This means a lot to us.”

This sentiment was repeated over and over again by members of the Muslim community to the Jewish guests who stood in solidarity with them at the noon prayer service at the Masjid Abu Bakr mosque of the Colorado Muslim Society, Friday, March 15.

That morning, Coloradans woke up to the news that at least 50 people were killed and 50 wounded, in a terror attack targeting two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

Friday is the Muslim day of public prayer. While Muslims pray five times every day, the Friday noon service is the largest, most central worship gathering of the week.

Denver rabbis and Jewish community leaders informally put the word out that some of them would be gathering at the mosque on South Parker Road to show support to the Muslim community.

Some 75 Jewish community members turned out, still hurting from the fresh wounds of the Oct. 27 Tree of Life shootings in Pittsburgh in which 11 worshippers were murdered, and appreciative of the support shown by Colorado Muslims to the Jewish community in the days following that tragedy.

Rabbis, Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders and rank-and-file community members flanked the main entrance to the large mosque as Muslim worshippers entered to pray. Men went through the main entrance to the prayer hall. Women used their own entrance.

The Intermountain Jewish News spoke with Nirmeen Elsayad, office manager of the Colorado Muslim Society, as she was handing out bottles of water to the mosque’s unexpected Jewish guests.

“My prayers go our brothers and sisters who senselessly lost their lives. We will never understand why this happened, and maybe it’s a good thing not to understand that frame of mind,” she said.

The Jewish guests were invited inside. While Muslim worshippers sat on the carpeted floor, chairs were set up for the guests.

The noon service began with worshippers kneeling and bowing in prayer in the large square sanctuary, followed by remarks by Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler S. Brown and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.

“We are dedicated to ensuring your safety, and everyone’s safety while they worship,” Brown said.

Weiser spoke as both a state official and a member of the Jewish community. Speaking as a Jew, he said, “After Pittsburgh, you were with us, and now we stand with you.”

He invoked the traditional motto on the Great Seal of the United States of America — ‘E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one,” and noted that previous generations of his own family suffered religious persecution.

As attorney general, he stated, “We must stand against hate and hate crimes. An attack on any of us for our faith is an attack on all of us. We will be here with you.”

Privately, Weiser told the IJN, “As Jews, we must respond.”

In his sermon, the mosque’s Imam Shakir Muhammad, spiritual leader, repeatedly said, “We can no longer compartmentalize the ills of society.” An attack on Muslim worshippers on the other side of the world in New Zealand is tantamount to Muslim worshippers in Colorado or anywhere, he said.

“When you have an ache in one part of your body, soon other parts of your body will ache.”

He also said, “We must remember those who support us,” and thanked the visitors in attendance.

As the service concluded, worshippers filed past the Jewish visitors, profusely thanking them for being there. They sounded both surprised and gratified at the same time.

Colorado Muslim Society spokesperson Iman Jodeh released a statement on behalf of all of Colorado’s Muslims: “We are devastated, but not surprised, by the familiar hate that is often used to justify the unimaginable violence against Muslim communities.

“We can scarcely imagine the sounds of silence and introspection that come moments before prayer within a Mosque only to be shattered by the piercing sounds of semi-automatic gunfire.

“All of us have been these worshippers, looking to find a moment of connection with their Creator. This is a state of innocence and perfect vulnerability, which was of course recognized and exploited by the perpetrators of these violent murders.

“After Quebec City and Finsbury Park, we enter into a familiar cycle of grief followed by numbness, wondering when the next cowardly act of violence will enter into our peaceful Houses of worship.

“We will not succumb to fear, and today we will go to our Mosques, not intimidated, in order to pray for our murdered brothers and sisters.”

Jodeh told the IJN that attendance at Friday’s service was down 25-30% from typical Friday noon services, which are the largest services of the week. She said people stayed away because they were scared after the attacks in New Zealand.

Friday’s show of informal support by members of the Jewish community was followed by an organized vigil Saturday evening, March 16 at the Colorado Muslim Society.

Some 1,500 people, including Muslims, Jews and Christians heard words of support and comfort from Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Cong. Jason Crow, law enforcement officials and interfaith leaders.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Larry Hankin

IJN Associate Editor |

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