MSA hosts candlelight vigil for Quebec victims


Pitt's Muslim Student Association organized a vigil on Tuesday night to support those killed in the Quebec City mosque shooting. Rebecca Peters | Contributing Photographer

By Rebecca Peters / Staff Writer

Through the wind and rain, the flames of fifty candles burned brightly outside the William Pitt Union for six men who were killed because of the religion they believed in.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Muslim Student Association hosted a candlelight vigil on Tuesday night to honor the 14 victims of the Jan. 29 shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, Canada. About 50 people attended the vigil in solidarity with the victims and their families.

During Sunday evening prayers held on Jan. 29 at the Canadian mosque, Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old student at the Laval University, opened fire on worshippers, killing six men and injuring eight others. Candlelight vigils were held throughout Canada in the following days. Tuesday night’s protest was the first vigil held in Pittsburgh.

Aya Shehata, MSA’s social chair and a Pitt sophomore psychology, sociology and natural science major, first felt the sense of community a candlelight vigil can provide after attending one in honor of the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015. After learning of the Quebec shooting, Shehata wanted to provide others with the same sentiment.

“We are still faced with the same struggles,” Shehata said. “We suffer just as much from this violence as the next community.”

Shehata read the names and brief biographies of the six men killed in the attack. Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, and Ibrahima Barry, 39, were inseparable friends who lived in the same apartment building. Khaled Belkacemi, 60, was a professor in the School of Agricultural Sciences and Food at Laval University, the same university the shooter attended. Boubaker Thabti, 44, was a father of two and worked in a pharmacy. Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, was the father of three, a grocer and a butcher. Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, a father of three, worked as an analyst-programmer for the Quebec government.

According to Shehata, the frequency of terrorist attacks makes it hard to give full emotional attention to each death because frequent violence has made the nation numb.

“This event weighs heavily on my heart, but our hearts don’t ache the way they should. We have become desensitized,” she said.

MSA considers vigils, which they have hosted a few time in the past, as a promotion and encouragement of community, which is an integral part of the Muslim faith, according to Shehata.

Alaa Mohamed, who served as MSA’s vice president from 2013 to 2014 and spoke to the crowd, remembered her first vigil. It was held in honor of three Muslim students who were killed in an apartment near the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in February 2015.

“Here I am giving another speech at another vigil for another shooting from another hate crime,” Mohamed, 22, said.

Mohamed admitted it is easy to get lost in despair and hopelessness, but the easiest emotion to get lost in is helplessness.

“The media labeled the terrorist in Quebec a “lone wolf” but paints me in the same shade of red as terrorists who use my religion’s name in vain,” Mohamed said.

Lone wolf attackers are defined as one person committing a terroristic and politically motivated attack.

For Mohamed, hope is in the Qu’ran. She ended her address to the crowd with a reminder and a promise found in her holy book. The reminder, verse 2:216, reads, “Perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you. Perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you.” The promise, verse 94:5, reads, “Indeed with hardship there is ease.”

Omar Mussa, a member of the Muslim community, who attended the vigil, knows that optimism and love are not the first reaction to terrorist attacks. Yet, he encouraged the crowd to keep participating in community events, such as the vigil, as a way to foster these reactions.

“It’s easy to lose love and allow anger to misguide us. Our Creator commands us to have patience in times of anger and to turn our enemies into friends,” Mussa, 23, said.

A 2015 Temple University graduate and a native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Mussa attended the vigil to extend solidarity into the community and pray for growth.

“It’s difficult to have a righteous reaction to a horrible event, but our brothers would’ve died in vain if we turned to the same anger and evil that led to their demise,” he said.

Though he has only lived in Pittsburgh for 18 months, Mussa had no trouble finding strength in the city’s Muslim community.

“Pittsburgh should be a city that’s a beacon of light for the U.S.,” he said.

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