Members of the Penn community gathered Friday on College Green to honor the lives of the 49 people who were killed at the New Zealand mosque attacks.
Standing in front of the LOVE statue, students and administrators offered their support for Penn's Muslim community, condemned Islamophobia, and vowed resilience at the Vigil For Victims of the New Zealand Mosque Shooting on March 15. The vigil was hosted by the Penn Muslim Students Association and included speeches from MSA President and Nursing junior Tafshena Khan, Penn President Amy Gutmann, and University Chaplain Rev. Charles Howard.
“Our main priority is to protect our Muslim students and to be here for them,” Khan said. “Everyone is experiencing this differently, but our job is to make sure that each and every person here is safe and accounted for, and doesn’t feel hindered in practicing their religion and doesn’t feel fear."
In the early hours of Friday morning, a gunman with military gear opened fire on Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Washington Post reported. Police are investigating a manifesto posted online by the alleged shooter, which contains far-right, extremist language. At least 49 people were killed and at least 20 more were injured. Police said a 28-year-old man was in custody and had been charged with murder.
Khan said she had been up working when she heard about the tragedy in the early hours of Friday morning. When the news broke, she said she dropped everything and immediately began to organize the vigil in collaboration with the Chaplain’s office.
The vigil also included Islamic prayers, a song for peace, and Quran passage readings from MSA members. Among others, religious leaders Rev. Megan LeCluyse and Rabbi Josh Bolton delivered messages of solidarity and unity.
Gutmann preached unity within the Penn community, calling Penn "one body" which collectively feels the pain of all its members, and emphasized her support for the MSA and Penn's Muslim community. She said Penn must show solidarity for its "Muslim brothers and sisters." She condemned fascism, quoted the Hadith, and referenced the strength religious diversity provides to the Penn community.
At the vigil, Howard drew a connection between fallen pollen seeds and his optimism for the future.
“When a tree or flower gives off pollen, maybe it seems like it’s dying," Howard said. "Yet, as we know, when these things hit the ground and light hits them, and water touches them, they grow into something better. That’s why I have hope. As I grieve, and as we hold each other, I still think a better world is coming.”
For College and Wharton senior Tiger Huang, who grew up as an immigrant in New Zealand, the attack came as a shock because in his experience, the country is an "inclusive environment."
"We didn’t have much of a history of terrorist attacks, so this event really hit us hard,” Huang said.
Students from the local Eastern University and University of the Sciences also traveled to Penn’s campus to show their solidarity with the Penn community.
“I personally came out because I studied in New Zealand last semester, so I know people who live right outside of Christchurch,” Eastern University student Rachel Covert said. "I have a very special place in my heart for New Zealand and know it as a very peaceful country, so to hear that this kind of evil has come to a place like that is very heartbreaking.”
Toobah Wali, a fourth-year pharmacy student at the University of the Sciences, said she was stunned and heartbroken when she learned about the attack.
“That could have been my mom, my dad, my aunts, my uncles. It could have been my own mosque," Wali said. "Hearing about it made me realize how we need to stand together. I just hope that this inspires everyone to reach out to their friends that are part of those minority groups, support them and make sure they’re okay today.”