More than 100 people gathered on Eastern Avenue on Friday evening to mourn the 50 victims of the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch. The vigil was organised by Muslims Down Under, the Sydney University Red Cross Society, the University of Sydney Student Representative Council (SRC) and the University of Sydney Union (USU), and featured speakers representing each of them. The Pro-Vice Chancellor of Global Engagement, Katherine Belov, along with members from the Evangelical Union and the Kiwi Society also gave speeches. The Autonomous Collective Against Racism offered to co-host the event but received no response from the SRC. SRC President Jacky He was not present at the vigil.
The solemn affair was marked by two prayer mats, each lined with candles, placed before the speakers. Next to the mats was a cloth banner bearing the words “Love, Peace, Unity, Remember Christchurch.” Attendants were encouraged to light the candles, place flowers on the prayer mats, and write messages of support on the banner.
A recurring theme throughout all of the speeches was the need to stand in solidarity with Muslims, and for unity in this time of despair.
Decheng Sun, the USU’s Ethnocultural Officer, also highlighted the fault of Australian society as a whole in being complacent with the rising Islamophobia which led up to the terrorist attack.
“We have failed to be aware of the seriousness and existence of xenophobic and racist discourse in our society… A social phenomenon does not grow from nowhere. The more we tolerate everyday xenophobic views, the closer we are to the repetition of violence,” Sun said.
Closing the speeches was Imam M.A Hadi, director of Muslims Down Under, who preached a message of hope, telling attendants that, “change is possible only if we are ready to stand for it” while condemning Islamophobia as a “scapegoat to distract you from what is right, [and] what matters.”
The vigil ended with a Quranic verse recited by Imam Hadi, one specifically chosen to reflect what the worshippers at the Christchurch mosques would have heard at the Friday service before the terrorist attack.