Fresno’s religious community expressed sympathy and shock over the massacre of 49 Muslim parishioners attending prayers Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The interfaith community gathered at an Islamic community center for a news conference to show solidarity with Muslims in the wake of an international tragedy.
Click on the video above to see and hear from the leaders.
Shocked and Devastated
Thabet Anani, program director with My Deen, a Muslim community organization in Fresno, worried about the repercussions.
“It felt like it could happen here at any moment. And, it did create worry and concern in my heart toward my community as well,” Anani said.
Anani spoke while a dozen or so leaders representing a multitude of faiths stood behind him at My Deen in northeast Fresno. The hastily organized event was sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations Sacramento Valley/Central California.
Like many Muslim groups in the wake of the attacks in New Zealand, My Deen plans to increase security.
An Unwelcome Return Visit
Rabbi Rick Winer, spiritual leader at Temple Beth Israel in Fresno, wants to return spiritual support to his Muslim brothers and sisters.
The Fresno religious community, including Muslim leaders, reached out to Winer last year after a massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and alleged vandalism at Temple Beth Israel.
“Unfortunately, it is time for us to be there for them. There are beautiful words in all of our religious traditions, but none of that is nearly as powerful as a hug,” Winer said. “Several of us will be checking in with the local community in person because we know what it feels like. It feels good to have friends in times like this.”
He added that this was another unfortunate but not unexpected tragedy.
“I am not surprised, however, I am horrified. Our hearts go out to our friends to the Muslim community,” Winer said.
Rev. Akiko Miyake-Stoner, with the United Japanese Christian Church in Clovis, noted how her parishioners felt the sting of racism in the past.
“Our community has also known the pain of discrimination, and we stand in love and support and solidarity with all of you,” she said.
Calling Out Complacency
“We stand together in times of good, and we stand together in times of pain. Today, we are here in a time of pain.” — Reza Nekumanesh, ICCF
Reza Nekumanesh of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno delivered perhaps the most impassioned plea.
“We stand together in times of good, and we stand together in times of pain. Today, we are here in a time of pain,” he said.
He called out complacency.
“They lived in a place where anti-immigrant rhetoric, where white supremacist rhetoric, where hateful rhetoric, racist rhetoric was the norm and OK’d … When these things are allowed to persist, when they are allowed to exist, when they are allowed to shine in the public and we stand by and say or do nothing, this is the outcome,” Nekumanesh said.
Work of the Devil
News of the slaughter in New Zealand shocked Pastor Jim Franklin of Cornerstone Church in Fresno, who was not at the news conference but spoke with GV Wire beforehand.
“This was unbelievable to see this attack on people of faith. There is never any excuse for this,” Franklin said. “We got to renounce this in every way … it’s happening too much.”
Franklin said such actions are antithetical to the Christian faith.
“I know this is not coming from God. I know this comes definitely from the enemy, the devil. And, that’s from a spiritual standpoint — the darkness that has invaded so much of world. We have to repel that with the truth.”