Call for peace, unity, understanding

City, county and state leaders show support of Islam community in wake of massacre at New Zealand mosques

People of different languages and looks can come together in a multi-colored world stained with hatred and hostility.

It’s a matter of acceptance, heart and hope, local faith leaders say.

“We must sit together, get to know each other and spread the message of peace,” said Shaykh Imad Al Busaad, imam of the Kent Islamic Center, speaking at a joint interfaith vigil and community gathering at the center’s gym Friday night.

“We must work together as people of faith,” he said, “and how can we do that if I don’t know you and you don’t know me?”

In a show of solidarity, the town hall-like program brought together worship leaders from many faiths – along with city, regional and state representatives – for discussion, prayer and song in the wake of a global tragedy. Guest speakers took turns extending condolences and honoring the 50 Muslims killed in terrorist attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday Prayer March 15.

A 28-year-old Australian man, described in media reports as a white supremacist, was arrested and charged with murder. The attacks, which also injured 50 others, have been connected to an increase in white supremacism and alt-right extremism worldwide since the mid-2010s, authorities said.

Al Busaad joined other faith leaders in condemning the attacks. He described the media as the “enemy” for perpetuating the strife and called upon people of all faiths to bridge their differences in the pursuit of peace.

“We’re different … but we are warm-hearted people,” he said.

Supporting words, actions

State Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, declared “hate has no place here,” adding that lawmakers will continue to work on anti-hate crime legislation. Das, who was born in India, is one of four women of color serving in the Senate.

Bill Boyce, Kent City Council president, speaking on behalf of the council, said the city remains committed to a “safe and inclusive community.” Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell reminded faith groups that officers will continue to respond to any credible threats to the Muslim community.

The city also is working on a speaker series and other programs to build interfaith understanding and relationships.

King County Councilman Dave Upthegrove presented the Islamic community with a proclamation that condemned acts of violence against those exercising their constitutionally protected right to worship. It recognized the increase of anti-Muslim hate crimes nationally and within the state of Washington and called on county residents to stand together as a community against Islamophobia and all forms of hate and violence.

Amanda Misasi, a civil rights attorney for the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the state continues to see an increase in reported threats. CAIR received 438 claims of religious discrimination in Washington in 2017.

“It’s important to stand in solidarity,” she said. “We’re encouraged (by the response here). We have a caring community.”

John Armagost is the senior minister of Panther Lake Community Church, which stands a block away from the Islamic Center. Pastor Armagost encouraged the community to pull together and “knock the walls” down that divide people of difference race and religion.

“Our faiths have a lot in common,” he said. “We are to love one another.”