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Interfaith Outreach After The New Zealand Attack


After the attack in New Zealand, many Muslims here in the United States say they feel afraid because of white supremacist groups. Despite the well-documented growing threat, President Trump has publicly downplayed concerns about these white power groups. In response, people of many faiths are speaking out against hatred and showing up at interfaith gatherings. NPR's Leila Fadel has this story.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: A video of a stranger with a bouquet of roses walking into a New York mosque was shared thousands of times online.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: An expression of sympathy for the loss of life in New Zealand.

FADEL: The message, Muslims, you are not alone. It echoed in vigils throughout the country. Joseph Hilinski is a Catholic priest in Cleveland. He spoke with other faith leaders on the steps of City Hall.


JOSEPH HILINSKI: We've all experienced the evil of hate. We pray that we be strong together and that all of us will work together to remove all of that hate...

FADEL: Standing with each other in moments like this is vital, says Ginna Green of Bend the Arc, a progressive Jewish advocacy group.

GINNA GREEN: The common thread that connects these tragedies, such as the Pittsburgh shooting on October 27, is a hateful, destructive, violent white nationalist ideology that targets all of us. In this moment, we are not safe unless we're together.

FADEL: And at a time when American Muslims say they feel vulnerable, Rami Nashashibi, a Muslim community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, says these alliances aren't just comforting.

RAMI NASHASHIBI: Our strength, our resilience and, in many ways, even our survival depends on those types of alliances in this country and beyond.

FADEL: This was a tragedy, he says, but not a surprise. Hate crimes are on the rise. Other faith and community groups put out messages of support. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America asked people to reach out to Muslim neighbors. The president of the American Atheists urged people to consider whether their own actions contributed to the climate that allowed the New Zealand attack. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights group, called on the president to stop fearmongering.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Praying in foreign language).

FADEL: And at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, an interfaith vigil of more than 200 people gathered Saturday. Elected officials, rabbis, pastors and poets were among those who mourned the killings in New Zealand. But even that was interrupted...


FADEL: ...By reports of an active shooter.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: A policeman said go this way.

FADEL: People fled the vigil, leaving behind shoes and backpacks. It turned out it was apparently just balloons popping nearby on campus. But the fear was real. Mina Arshad (ph) attended the vigil with her sister, who's a student at the university. She hoped to find people coming together. Instead, she briefly lost her sister in the chaos.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just glad you're OK.

FADEL: She says she thought someone might have come to the vigil to kill more people.

ARSHAD: What happened in New Zealand, that was terrorism. The fact that I had to worry about my sister because she was on campus and she's brown, that is pathetic. And people need to grow up.

FADEL: Her anger, she says, is from her fear that at any moment, hate will turn to violence. Even when the community came together to find comfort, they were interrupted by a false alarm that another attack was underway. Leila Fadel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.