Local Muslim community grapples with New Zealand shooting

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“[The shooter is] going to make Muslims have fear even in the most peaceful locations on the earth,” said Ali Metwalli, professor of business at Western Michigan University and Chairman of the Board of the At-Tawheed Islamic Center in Kentwood.

On Friday, May 19, a white man stepped into Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand and opened fire. He killed 50 Muslim men and women who were simply going about their weekly Friday routine.

This attack has had rippling effects throughout the world, particularly in Muslim communities as they grapple with the reality of a shooting in a country that was thought as being one of the most Muslim-friendly countries in the world.

Metwalli was shocked when he heard the news of the shooting.

“New Zealand in known to be the most peaceful environment,” he said, continuing to talk about how the shooter in New Zealand brought fear into communities that thought they were safe.

After learning about the terrorist attack in New Zealand, the community at At-Tawheed Islamic Center has taken steps to increase their security measures by installing sophisticated locking mechanisms, adding escape routes, hiring armed guards to protect them as they go to prayer and training attendants how to prevent a shooter from gunning them down.

“The only way to defend ourselves is to distract that person,” said Metwalli, talking about the potential situation of a shooter breaking into At-Tawheed.

Metwalli noted that the Muslim community is not alone in improving security to prevent shootings. After the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last year on October 27, local synagogues have been reaching out to Islamic centers and mosques for plans to deal with a potential shooter.

“The two synagogues here are coming in and asking us, ‘how can we do what you are doing to protect ourselves.’”

Metwalli talked about how the Grand Rapids Muslim community participated in interfaith events and reached out to the larger community to combat the ignorance at the root of these anti-Muslim attacks.

“The violence comes in as a result of ignorance,” Metwalli said, “The challenge for us here is how fast can we reach out to the communities and educate them about what Muslims are all about.”

Despite the increasing sense of insecurity, the community of At-Tawheed released a public thank you letter after the shooting in New Zealand. The letter expressed their gratitude for feeling welcome in Grand Rapids and ended with a call for solidarity between different faith groups in the wake of this attack.

“Our sincere hope and prayer is that all of us, of all faiths and backgrounds, can stand together in solidarity and give each other strength in these uncertain times.”

A PDF of the thank you letter can be found on the front page of At-Tawheed’s website: http://www.grmasjid.com/