Vanderbilt mourns victims of terrorist attack in New Zealand, stands with Muslim community on campus

At a vigil on Monday, students and community leaders offered support and condemned hate


Over 200 members of the Vanderbilt and Nashville community came together on Monday afternoon to mourn the lives lost in Friday’s white nationalist terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty people were killed and 50 more injured at the two consecutive mass shootings at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center.

At the Vanderbilt vigil, administrators Mark Bandas, Dean of Students, and Susan Wente, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, were joined by Imam Ossama Bahloul of the Islamic Center of Nashville, Vanderbilt’s Rev. Shantell Hinton and students Fayo Abadula, Tariq Issa,  Shun Ahmed and Ruiy Shah. Each speaker condemned the racist, white supremacist hatred that led to the violent attack and offered words of support to those impacted in the Vanderbilt and Nashville communities.

“The number of emails, messages, and flowers being sent to the Islamic center is overwhelming. The majority of people are good, they are feeling bad and they are crying with the Muslim community,” Imam Bahloul said. “I don’t want this bad act of an individual to contaminate our life. The majority of the people are good, people in Nashville are wonderful, and people worldwide, the massive majority, are wonderful. We’ve received not only tens or hundreds but thousands of emails to show support and I really appreciate all of this. Maybe we can see each other not as religious and non-religious, not as Muslim, Jewish, Christian brothers, but as people, and each one of us has value.”

Imam Ossama Bahloul of the Islamic Center of Nashville spoke at Vanderbilt’s vigil for the victims in Christchurch, New Zealand. photo by Emily Gonçalves

In her remarks to the crowd, Abadula, president of the Muslim Students Association emphasized the importance of keeping the victims, their families and all affected communities in mind moving forward and to continue to fight back against white supremacy and identity based hatred that led to this attack and other recent shootings, like those at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and an African-American church in Charleston.

Muslim Students Association president Fayo Abadula speaks at Vanderbilt’s vigil for the victims of the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand. photo by Emily Gonçalves

“In the Quran it says that anyone who harms a single soul is as if they harmed all of humanity. Last week we saw humanity killed over 50 times,” Abadula said. “I don’t know what to do or say in moments like these, and we see it all too often. My first reaction is to hug, to reach out to somebody, and right now I see so many people reaching out to me, reaching out to my friends, reaching out to people they don’t know, to the Islamic Center, and that’s beautiful. After reaching out, you have to remember what are we here for.”

Abadula and Issa read out the names of those killed. After all 50 names had been read, the crowd took a moment of silence, with electric candles lit, to reflect on the lives lost and the words shared by the community.

Shun Ahmed speaks at Vanderbilt’s vigil for the victims of the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand. photo by Emily Gonçalves

Before the service ended, Ahmed shared a poem she wrote in the aftermath of the shooting as a way to process the shooting.

After the vigil concluded, the crowd lingered, introducing themselves to one another and sharing their grief and love.

“In the Quran, it says that God does not change the condition of the people until they first change what is in themselves. It is imperative that we all seek to remember our obligations, to be the best we can, and take away the moments that don’t represent who we are,” Abadula said.