New Zealand Vigil in Toronto Crowd Shot
A crowd gathered at Nathan Phillips Square on March 15 to mourn the loss of the lives lost in the New Zealand mosque shooting. (Julia Nowicki/Ryersonian)

In the wake of the New Zealand mosque shooting, empowering and supporting the Muslim community is more important now than ever, says Samaa Hussein, president of the Muslim Students’ Association.

Last week, a gunman opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch. Men, women and children were among the victims of the shooting in the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, an act that many have denounced as terrorism at the hand of a self-described white supremacist.

This past weekend the MSA held its Muslim Student Empowerment Conference, meant to inspire young Muslim students to be “change-makers” and leaders in society. The conference had various guest speakers, including Reem Ahmed, a Ryerson grad and the first hijabi contestant on MasterChef Canada, actress Nawal Salim and CEO Hisham Al Hadi.  

Although the timing between the attack and both the conference and subsequent Islamic Awareness Week currently taking place was a tragic coincidence, it further emphasized the importance of empowering young Muslims in the community.

“It really made the message stronger because it gave the events a bit of an undertone — an unintentional undertone — but it brought people together and further instilled our message of empowerment,” Hussein said. “What are we going to do other than be empowered? We can’t be afraid of this, we can’t let this instill fear into the community, we have to use it to not only strengthen ourselves but strengthen our beliefs and become leaders to educate others.”

Hussein said that the terrorist attack on Muslims in Christchurch also showcased how misinformation and othering can inspire hatred against marginalized groups. Education in this instance is an important tool to help extinguish Islamophobia, because ignorance is at the root of hate, she said. Hussein also said she hopes that continuing the efforts of Islamic Awareness Week between March 18 and 22 will break down stigma and correct commonly believed myths about Islam in general.

“We’re here to challenge the misconceptions that people have and make people aware,” Hussein said. “It’s not this foreign religion or faith that people follow, there are a lot of actual common values and beliefs and a lot of people don’t know that. This is our chance to kind of give at least the Ryerson population a chance to learn.”

The MSA was also instrumental in organizing the Ryerson march to the vigil held in Nathan Phillips Square on Friday.

Hundreds of people from across the GTA gathered in the city’s centre to pay respect to and mourn the many lives lost that day.

Given the proximity of the vigil to the Ryerson campus, both the MSA and RSU felt it necessary to mobilize students. The event was organized together with members from the MSA, RSU arts director Shehroz Shabbir and interim president Maklane deWever.

“In these types of events unity is best shown in numbers,” Hussein said.

Roha Saleeni is a fourth-year child and youth care student who was in attendance for both the march and vigil. She said that it’s important for recognition to be made at a university in one of the most diverse cities in Canada.

“We’re a multicultural society, we’re very, very diverse. I think the majority of Canada is built up of immigrants. I feel like it’s important that we show that we stand by them though, that we’re accepting, that we’re open to welcoming refugees, we are open to welcoming immigrants into our home,” Saleeni said.

“I think it’s really important for us to stand in solidarity, us doing events like these, doing a march, doing a vigil, it just proves that we stand with peace and we stand with the rest of the world.”

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