By Umar Farooq
WASHINGTON (AA) - The Islamic Center of Washington D.C. was overflowing with Muslims for Friday prayers, showing strength in numbers, despite safety concerns after a gunman killed dozens of worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand.
The prayer hall was filled but the room was roaring with silence as worshippers sat solemnly in anticipation for the imam’s sermon.
The talk was held after the gunman opened fire on worshippers during Friday prayers at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, leaving at least 49 people dead. The shooter posted a manifesto prior to the attack, spewing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric and showing support for U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Islamic center's director, Abdullah Khouj, delivered his speech, calling for peace and condemning violence and hate. Khouj recited a verse from the Quran well known to the Muslim community.
“Whoever kills a person, unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land, it is as if he kills all mankind, while if anyone saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind,” he recited from Islam’s holy text.
Police were present with squad cars posted outside the Washington mosque, and officers remained in the prayer hall, checking to make sure there was no potential security threat.
Despite concerns in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the U.S., Muslims were not deterred in their faith and showed that in times of tragedy, strength must be shown.
“Do not be afraid and do not abandon your mosques. Not today. Not ever,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said Friday.
Some Muslims were ready to take matters into their own hands – even if it meant brining weapons into the sanctuary of the mosque.
“I think Muslims should take the steps to arm themselves, because the Second Amendment specifically is there to protect our rights, to our fundamental right to life,” Karim el-Sayed said. “I think it is crucial that Muslims in the US take the necessary steps to legally arm themselves, form security groups to patrol the masjids.”
But Mustafa Alam had a slightly different perspective.
“We shouldn't be fearful, but we should always just be bold and strong and just follow our faith and live well with others. That's all we have to do. Nothing like this should intimidate us, it should strengthen us to be better people,” Mustafa Alam, a recent medical school graduate, told Anadolu Agency.
Alam said Muslims need to show love to fight hate.
"Mercy is always greater, and that's the way we should deal with that. With a lot of mercy with a lot of love, and when we do that that's how we demonstrate and show what it means of our faith,” he said. “Hopefully, this love and compassion overrides the hate that others may show.