Local religious leaders and social advocacy groups met Friday afternoon in front of the California Islamic Center in Lodi in an act of solidarity against racism and bigotry.
The decision to present a united front by leaders in the community follows on the heels of a terrorist attack in Christchurch New Zealand that resulted in the death of 49 people worshipping on Friday afternoon. Approximately 20 people are believed to be in serious or critical condition, another 28 had less serious wounds and the youngest surviving victim is believed to be 4 years old.
New Zealand police arrested the alleged shooter, 28-year-old Australian born white- nationalist Brenton Harrison Tarrant.
Tarrant live-streamed his shooting rampage at two mosques (Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque) on Facebook. In an 87-page manifesto titled “The Great Replacement” — a reference to a white genocide conspiracy theory — on the imageboard 8chan outlining his attack.
In the manifesto, he expresses several anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments including hate speech against migrants.
He is quoted in the manifesto, calling for other white nationalists “to kill all Muslims and immigrants invading his land to preserve the white race.”
“This is ignorance,” Mark Price the senior pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church said. “When you think about him telling people to stay where they belong, it's ironic when you know the history of both New Zealand and Australia. These are countries that have resulted from colonization.”
Price, who was joined by members of Saint Paul Lutheran Church, First United Methodist Church, United Congregational Christian Church and the Breakthrough Project for Social Justice stood in front of the California Islamic Center Mosque at 12882 Lower Sacramento Road to show their support and to stand united with the Muslims in the community.
“When we heard what happened, our immediate response was what are we going to do?” Price said.
Price stood alongside Rev. David Hill, who is a visiting pastor at St. Paul and a founder of the Breakthrough Project, reached out the mosque’s Imam Yasir Khan, asking what they could do to help.
“We planned all this in the course of 90 minutes. We wanted to stand here and let people know that we are here, and to make sure nothing happens,” Hill said. “As religious leaders, we know that religion is about building bridges, not walls.”
A group of approximately 40 volunteers stood in front of the mosque and greeted people as they came to pray.
The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s department also had deputies at the mosque in Lodi to ensure public safety.
“Our priority is always our citizens regardless of their religion or race,” Andrea Lopez, a public information officer with the Sheriff’s department said. “We will be running routine deputy checks at both the mosques throughout the area to deter aggressors that would want to try and do something in this community.”
Lopez said that since the story in New Zealand broke, deputy checks at mosques have been authorized as a top priority by Sherriff Patrick Withrow.
“Sherriff Withrow has been driving around to the mosques himself conducting deputy checks. We want to make sure there are not copy cats in this community,” Lopez said.
As Muslims throughout Lodi attended prayer, many were surprised to see members of the community in front of the mosque.
“As soon as I drove up, I immediately recognized some of the women from the Breakthrough Project, and I started to cry. There is nothing more comforting than seeing your community literally show up for you,” Lodi native Nazia Rasool said.
Rasool believes that it’s especially important for the young people in the community who attend the mosque to see the solidarity in the community because they should not feel ashamed or scared to be Muslim.
Her nephew, Umar Rasool, who is a freshman at Tokay High School, was proud to see Lodians show their support after having heard of the harrowing events in New Zealand.
He expressed the devastation that his family felt when they watched the news and the heartbreak over those killed.
“Islam is a religion of peace. We are taught to look at look at one another as brothers and sisters, seeing everyone here is as it should be. We should always stand together in unity regardless of our faiths,” Umar Rasool said.
For many attendees at the mosques, they believe that the attack is a wake-up call for humanity and serves as a reminder to the people all over the world to edify one another.
“We have a political environment that has become so polarized, due to attitudes of intolerance and we have to take action against racism,” First United Methodist Pastor George Edd-Bennet said.
Both Edd-Bennett and Price have pointed out the denigrating comments made on social media, which has prompted them to create an interfaith ministry.
“We are hoping to have it established by July because we want to create a unified community and we want to provide to create community dialogue where we celebrate our differences,” Edd-Bennet said.
The concept of unity became the topic of Imam Yasir Khan’s lecture to worshippers on Friday afternoon. He reminded people that a strong community is the product of people working to make it better.
“We need to be present in our community, we have to be active in community service, we can not have selective solidarity. We can not pick and chose who we care about,” Khan said. “ Our job as Muslims is to be ready to help, no matter who it is that needs help.”
He ended his lecture to the community by thanking the organizers in front of the mosque, and the Sheriff’s department for coming together to ensure that people worship in peace before leading the Jummah (Friday) prayer.