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New Zealand Mosque Shooting Calls Young Muslims to Politics

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[Read: American Muslims Are Young, Political Liberal, and Scared]

Because New Zealand is located in a time zone 17 hours ahead of New York City’s, Muslim students at NYU had the whole, brutal day to think about whether they wanted to attend jummah prayers. “It was difficult … to decide whether or not it was appropriate for people to go out,” said Hojaij. “It felt like it was almost dangerous—like there was still a threat looming.” Asad Dandia, an NYU alumnus who still volunteers at the Islamic Center, told his mother in Brooklyn not to leave her house without him. He was worried that someone might target her, because she wears a hijab and doesn’t speak English very well.

In the end, though, people turned out—a lot of people. More than 300 men and women crowded into the space, standing in rows shoulder to shoulder to pray. Omer Malik, an NYU senior who serves as president of the Muslim Students Association, said the turn out was as big as he’s seen it in his four years at school.

The message shared at the beginning of prayers was emotional. “If you’re angry, man, it’s okay to be angry. If you feel scared, it’s okay to be scared,” said Imam Khalid Latif, the executive director of the Islamic Center.  “We’re going to do what we can to make sure tomorrow is as best as it possibly can be. … This is divine promise. Indeed with hardship, there is relief.” The room was completely still as Latif spoke. Several students were crying.

But Latif’s message was not just about grieving: He stated forcefully, in a voice edged with emotion, that the New Zealand shooting was driven by a dangerous ideology. “That act is … rooted in the same white-supremacist mindset that underlies the very systems and structures of the country we live in,” he said. “On a globalized level, it is running rampant.”

[Read: How White Supremacist Violence Echoes Other Forms of Terrorism]

In his role as a Muslim chaplain, Latif told me afterwards, he is responsible for caring for students, but also coaching them to use their voices. “Our young people have shown over and over that they can be a real catalyst for change,” he said. “Organized evil will triumph over disorganized righteousness.” In his message to the community, he explicitly encouraged students to get politically active. “We are in the beginning of 2019, and 2020 is ahead. And each one of us has to say to ourselves what our commitment will be,” he told the room. “One of the most American things we can do is speak out in protest against injustice in any administration’s policy.”

The students in the room seemed to resonate with this message. “Because of everything that’s been happening in this country since 2016, politically, we’ve had to come together as a community in the MSA,” said Maha Hashwi, a junior who serves on the board of the Muslim Students Association. The students have been working on building partnerships with other groups on campus, added Malik, and they’re not afraid to be outspoken about political issues.

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