Sep 15, 2019
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Hajj Reza Nekumanesh, executive director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, speaks at Fresno State on March 21 to attendees of a vigil held for the victims of the New Zealand mosque terror attack on March 15. (Jorge Rodriguez/The Collegian)

Fresno State community honors New Zealand victims with interfaith ceremony

Fresno State students, faculty, community members and religious leaders gathered at the Speaker’s Platform in front of the Peace Garden on March 21 in honor of the victims of the New Zealand terror attack that took place on March 15.

Religious leaders of various faiths spoke to a crowd of more than 100 people about the importance of standing together in solidarity and speaking out against hate and intolerance both in the local community and throughout the world.

The event was coordinated by Fresno State’s Muslim Student Alliance (MSA) members Jasmine Nagi; the MSA president Eman Hussein, the vice president; and member Sadiyah Saeed in the span of just three days.

Nagi said inspiration for the event came from a similar vigil which took place at CSU Bakersfield earlier in the week. She added that she was thankful to the university’s administration and Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) for supporting the event.

“This was like a confirmation and a confirmation from the university,” Nagi said. “To have a faculty member and a vice president of the university meant a lot because it was like, ‘We do stand by the students from different faiths.’ So that was like a stamp of approval.”

Speakers at the event included leaders from the Jewish, Islamic, Christian and Hindu faiths, as well as Dr. Frank Lamas, Fresno State vice president of student affairs and enrollment, and ASI Sen. Hunter Sansom. The panel spoke about the atrocity of the attack on the two Muslim mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“We stand together as a religious community. We stand together as a human community. We do so with joy, with love,” said Rabbi Rick Winer, a speaker from the Jewish synagogue Temple Beth Israel. “The ability to come together across religious lines, across ethnic and cultural and racial lines happens here all the time.”

Though the event was in honor of the victims in New Zealand, speakers discussed and condemned past shootings that have been either racially or religiously motivated, including the shooting at a gurdwara, or Sikh temple, in Wisconsin in 2012 which left six dead; the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 which left nine dead; and the attack on a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2018 which left 11 dead.

“There’s a beautiful saying in the Islamic tradition that says your Ummah is like one body. When one part of you is hurt, it brings pain to the rest of your body,” said Hajj Reza Nekumanesh, executive director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno (ICCF). “We look at this human world, we look at the world, and we see the attacks on our fellow brothers and sisters, fellow human beings, fellow creation, and if it doesn’t bring us pain, that’s a problem.”

Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, a philosophy professor at Fresno State and speaker at the event, said he was born and raised in the Hindu faith, but said he calls his religion simply, “Nonviolence and kindness.” Kapoor discussed the inspirational leadership of those whose statues stand in the Peace Garden, before leading the crowd in a pledge against hate.

Rev. Carl Jones of the African Methodist Episcopal Church denounced the white supremacist ideology that he said is spreading across the globe, the breeding grounds of which he said are here in America.

Jones referenced the alleged shooter’s published manifesto, which names several conservative American politicians, including President Donald Trump, as inspiration for his ideology and motivation.

Following the speakers’ presentations, those in attendance were encouraged to select one of the many roses that were placed on the stage and hand it to another individual of a different faith from their own.

The exchange of flowers was followed by a short prayer session before the conclusion of the ceremony.

The event was co-sponsored by ASI, the MSA and the Interfaith Alliance of Central California.

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