By Imam Al-Hajj Hakim Abdul-Ali
In the aftermath of the monstrous terroristic mass killings of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019, a gathering of concerned Lowcountry religious, elected public officials and other community folk from the area gathered at the Islamic Council of Charleston’s King Street masjid on March 21, 2019, to express and share their outrage about the event.
In many other ways, the symbolic event also took on a cohesive community wide commitment expression in forbidding the hatreds of religious intolerances and cultural divisions from taking hold in the greater Charleston area’s various ethnic communities and its nearby environs. To say that the event was well represented by a well-diversified alliance of disquieted Lowcountry folk would be an understatement.
Imam M. Bourouis El-Idrissi of the Islamic Council of Charleston informed me in a separate interview that the idea for the event took place after he had received a call from City of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, who suggested to the imam that such an event would be a good idea. From that suggestion, Imam El-Idrissi took the lead in contacting various community folk from various civic and religious persuasions, who he felt might be interested in participating. Besides himself and Mayor Tecklenburg, the imam invited the chief of the Charleston Police Department, Luther Reynolds, Rabbi Greg Kanter of Kadol Kadosh Beth Elohim, North Charleston’s Masjid Al Jami ArRashid’s imam, Herbert Fraser Abdul-Rahim, and Reverend Rich Robinson, senior chaplain of the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy organization.
Also invited to speak were the Charleston Jewish Federation president, Eileen Chepenik, Reverend Eric Manning of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Sheikh Shamudeen, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Charleston. The grouping represented a small, but significantly diverse cadre of what kinds of forthright, peace-loving community leaders who are present in the Lowcountry, ever-ready to denounce prejudices, injustices and intolerances of any kind.
Under the evening’s programmatic theme of “Charleston Vigil in Solidarity with the People of Christchurch, New Zealand,” the guest speakers told the audience assembled in the masjid of about 65 folk (my count) what each felt about the tragedies in New Zealand and other discriminations elsewhere. Each presenter was very passionate in his or her presentation, expressing obvious disdain at the saddening past global murderous atrocities and the current seemingly ongoing destructive, violent extremist happenings in our nation and the world-at-large.
Imam El-Idrissi started the program off by expressing the outright commonality of respecting the religions of everyone, a thought that we all need to adhere to. Following him was the City’s mayor, who said that he’s committed to ensuring that all citizens know that religious prejudice and the like will never be tolerated in this city under his administration, and he also urged for a collective coming together of concerned souls in fostering signs of respect, goodwill and brotherhood.
Reverend Manning of the Emanuel AME Church, a sanctuary that’s nationally known as and is affectionately referred to as “Mother Emanuel,” where nine of its very own members were savagely slaughtered in June 2015, spoke of universal need for “all” humans to be respected, in spite of what may be their obvious differences, religious and otherwise. When he spoke you could sense that he was making a direct plea to all in attendance to rethink about what they have to do in order to make themselves and their communities better off for everyone.
In a similar vein, but expressed through the lens of their own religious perspectives and internal mind’s eyes, the same ideas of shared respect was uttered, in part, by Imam Abdul Rahim, Mrs. Chepenik and, again, by Reverend Robinson in their own straightforward speeches, but clearly with and through their very own distinctive voices.
Sheikh Shamudeen spoke of the need for respecting each other’s rights to be here in this country and to be able to have respect for and recognize our protected differences, while still being able to learn from and cherish each other’s individual grouping’s rights to be who they are.
Chief Reynolds, a very genuinely and committed professional public servant, elaborated on how it’s definitively his department’s priorities to serve, protect and ensure that all of the various belief systems operating in Charleston are respected.
I assume that the general tones of the captive gathering were ones of collaborative showings of indignation and solidarity, but, I believe, that other underlying unifying messages of the occasion were about mutual esteem for one and all, the coming together in stopping the ensuing escalating religious and racial hatreds here in our community, nation and the rest of the world, and that such a tragedy that occurred in New Zealand was one that no one should ever forget.
The local national television stations (ABC, CBS and NBC) covered the event. Additionally, as an insightful point of reference, you may want to read the Charleston Chronicle’s March 20, 2019, “As I See it” online article entitled “The New Zealand 50 and the Current Worlds of Denials” for a more candid column about the massacre.
The unanimity program ended on a respectful farewell with Imam Bourouis’ closing prayer. As the multi-religious folk in attendance left the masjid that night, it was very visible to see Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews conversing in peaceful camaraderie of mutual feelings of harmonious dialogues and shared goodwill, with no apparent hatreds towards or for each other.
Now, if that flow of mutual, respectful acceptability can be passed on and understood by all, then the world-at-large will surely see what peace and respect is all about. That benevolent feeling was very evident on the night of March 21 at the Islamic Council of Charleston’s masjid.