ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Faizan Shaik had just finished midday prayers Friday at Daar-ul-Islam Mosque near Manchester when he learned his uncle by marriage was critically wounded hours earlier in a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The attacks killed 49 people and wounded 48. Shaik had followed news updates on the attacks the night before. On Friday, his mother phoned him to say his uncle was among the wounded.
“It’s been a really tough day,” said Shaik, 20, of Ballwin.
Shaik was one of at least 1,000 people of all ages who attended congregational prayers at Daar-ul-Islam, the largest mosque in the area and home to the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis. Friday at midday is when Muslims gather to pray in congregation.
Police were visible outside the mosque at the start of prayers about 1 p.m. Friends greeted each other as they entered the mosque, where Mufti Asif Umar, the mosque’s imam, acknowledged the pain and fear congregants might feel.
“Even though this happened across the world, on the other side of the world, as far away as it can be from St. Louis, it’s something that still hits home, it hits our hearts, it feels like something that happened locally because it hurt us so gravely,” he said.
Earlier in the day, law enforcement officials held a conference call with Islamic leaders to assure them there was no credible threat to Muslims in the U.S., said Faizan Syed, executive director of the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The gunman who carried out at least one of the New Zealand attacks posted a manifesto online identifying himself as a white supremacist from Australia.
Syed said parents need to initiate “the very real and difficult conversation with their children about Islamophobia and white supremacy.”
“The hate that fueled (the shooter) is part of this white supremacist agenda spreading across the U.S. and the world, and they should teach their children to be ready to counteract it,” Syed said. “This is a time for us as a community to come together, for people in other faiths and communities to reach out to Muslim friends and coworkers. It’s really hard for me to say how important that is to know we’re not alone and other people stand with us.”
At Daar-ul-Islam, Umar also talked about attacks on houses of worship in the U.S. and Canada, including Oct. 27, when a gunman yelling anti-Semitic slurs killed 11 congregants and wounded six other people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He encouraged the congregants to have more faith, not less, in times of hardship and reminded them of the importance of community.
It was a message he and several faith leaders repeated at an interfaith prayer service at the mosque hosted by the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis and attended by more than 200 people, including speakers from the Partnership, the Islamic Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
The terrorist who attacked the mosques wanted to send a message to Muslims “that you’re not welcome, that you’re not with us, that you should be afraid,” said Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
“One man tried to say that last night, and hundreds of people came out today on a Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. to say to you that you’re not alone,” she said. “We are with you, and we love you.”
The Rev. Karen Anderson, an Episcopal pastor and board chair of Metropolitan Congregations United, recalled the June 17, 2015, attack and killing of nine congregants at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., one of the oldest black congregations in the South.
“We’ve done this too many times,” she said.
She encouraged the crowd to come together in prayer and in action.
“Peace is not silent, peace is working until there is equity for everybody — that nobody is left outside, that nobody is called an other, that nobody is demeaned or denigrated because they don’t look the same,” she said.
“We commit to you, to stand with you, in the fight that all of our humanity will be recognized.”
In addressing the crowd, Umar said the shooting was motivated by Islamophobia.
“Hate and terror have no religion, but let us be real for a moment,” he said. “This attack is a reminder that Islamophobia is real, that words and ideologies of intolerance that have become prevalent today have deep and dangerous effects not only in our own country, but around the globe.”
He said it was also another reminder of the need for people to “work together to combat hate.”
“An attack on any place of worship is an attack on all of us,” he said. “We pray for peace, we pray for unity, we pray for justice, we pray for equality,” he said. “We pray that our sacred houses of worship are places of peace and refuge for us, and not places of worry and danger.”