BATH — When Faheem Shaikh, president of the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent, woke up to a video a friend had messaged him Saturday morning, he didn’t think much of it.

As he started watching, he realized he was seeing dozens of Muslims being shot and killed in a mosque in New Zealand.

“It just changed everything for me,” he said about the shootings at two mosques full of worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week that left 50 people dead.

Shaikh shared his thoughts about the shootings with about 100 people gathered Tuesday night at the monthly Jewish-Muslim dialogue between the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent and Temple Israel. The discussion took place at the temple.

The two faith communities have held the monthly dialogues for the last few years to learn more about each other’s faiths. Tuesday night's dialogue was initially set to focus on “how we accept the other.”

But after the New Zealand shootings, organizers decided to shift the topic to discuss racism and hatred, said Temple Israel Rabbi Josh Brown.

A 28-year-old self-proclaimed racist and white supremacist from Australia has been charged with murder in relation to the shootings. The Associated Press reports Christchurch has been the center of the country’s small but persistent white supremacist movement for decades.

"We knew that we should talk about what's on our mind and what's in our hearts,” Brown said. “When our two communities started getting together, while we hoped that it would simply be to get together to celebrate, I think it's safe to say that in our world at these times, we knew that there would be a time where we would gather around tragedy and where we would need to be there for each other, and these last six months have proven that to be the case."

After the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people in October, members of the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent reached out to the Jewish community with phone calls, letters and support. Temple Israel is doing the same for the Islamic Society now.

Shaikh said since the Pittsburgh shootings, the Cuyahoga Falls mosque has increased its security measures.

“There is a lot of fear and a lot of anxiety, and for good reasons,” he said. “The Muslim community is not new to dealing with acts of terror and all the Islamophobia, as the Jewish community is with anti-Semitism.”

Temple Israel President Jim Levin said the temple has also heightened security measures.

"I'm so sad about the fact that we have to talk about what we're talking about today,” he said. “We've dealt with it in Pittsburgh. We're dealing with this in New Zealand, and you know, it'll be a surprise if it doesn't happen again.”

Ghulam Mir, the Islamic Society's community relations director, said to the shooter, President Donald Trump was "his leader" and "his guide in his thinking."

“If our president changed the tone, I think people around the world are going to change their tone also,” he said.

“When America speaks, everybody hears it, whether they want to hear it or not,” Mir added.

In the meantime, Mir encouraged people to spread love and compassion.

“We want to go out as a community — Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and others, black, white and brown — so that we can make sure that we lift everybody up and share some of what God has given us,” he said.

Temple Israel member and past president Art Krakauer encouraged people to learn more about those who are different from them.

“If you want to conquer hate and fear and violence, one thing that is incredibly important is getting people to know each other, to break bread together, to sit down and meet each other face to face because if people are total strangers, the fear and hatred can fester out of ignorance,” he said. “But once you get to meet somebody and you get to know somebody, it really does break down the fear and prejudice."

 

Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.