BOONTON, NJ – Hundreds gathered at the Jam-E-Masjid Mosque on March 17 to mourn the loss of 50 New Zealand Muslims gunned down while they were at worship. The event in Boonton, sponsored by the Morris County Islamic Centers, attracted those of all faiths, and many local and county dignitaries including Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, plus police chiefs from neighboring towns and Morris County Sheriff James Gannon. A common thread of hope in the face of the horrific act, and love and unity as a way of facing up to the evil, emerged.
Gul Khan, coordinator of the Islamic Center and Imam Wesley LeBron, both of Jam-E-Masjid, acted as hosts for the event.
“It’s amazing that all of you came, when 48 hours ago we were shocked and trying to react and do something about [the shootings],” Khan told attendees. He admitted that attendance at Friday worship was lower than usual. The event opened with some verses from the Quran.
Morris County Sheriff James Gannon was then introduced, and he asked for a moment of silence for those who were killed in New Zealand, for people of the Islamic faith, and for all people of faith. He assured attendees that sheriff’s officers patrol all houses of worship in the county, working in conjunction with local law enforcement.
“This is a family and we take care of our family,” he said. “Today is about love and peace. We’re not going to let New Zealand shape us.”
Boonton Police Chief David Mayhood, Rockaway Borough Borough Police Chief Conrad Pepperman and John Page of Homeland Security all spoke, assuring the safety of the audience. Montville Township Police Chief Andrew Caggiano said he was “devastated” by the news from New Zealand.
“We live next door, we worship next door, and when I look around the room I see many Montville residents,” he said. “I’m so proud to see they’ve come out to support their neighbors here. We wish you the best and you can lean on us any time for support.”
A unity walk then commenced, taking approximately 20 minutes and circling to Boonton Town Hall and back to the Islamic Center.
Khan stated that the Islamic Center had commemorated the 9/11 attacks, and the attacks in New Zealand are “not the first time in human history that goodness is under attack and evil is trying to break us apart.” He remembered an attack in 2016 in a Pakistani school, the shootings in the South Carolina church, and the recent shootings in the Pittsburgh synagogue.
“Many came to seek peace,” he said. “Many did not come back. There has always been evil, but goodness always overcame evil. And your presence here today is about goodness. We come together as a community – about love. Thank you to the distinguished guests for coming, but mostly, thank you all for coming.”
Khan said that his phone had rung when he woke up Friday morning, and it was Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (D-11) calling, asking what she could do. Sherrill spoke next.
Sherrill said that it is “uplifting and hopeful” in New Jersey to see people coming together to show that “when we face horrible acts of others, that they are not our values, and that we know how critical it is to have a diverse culture.”
She said it was nice how diversity comes together in different ways, because she was wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day but it is also the Prophet’s favorite color.
“I know that we are better because of our diversity,” she said.
Imam Adel Almorsi of the Islamic Center of Morris County said the speeches were powerful, but the presence of those in the room was even more powerful, because actions speak louder than words.
“Your presence is very great, and let no one divide us,” he said. “Some verses of the Quran say ‘this your united nation,’ which tells us Muslims, ‘You are not alone. You are with the Christians, the Jews, and the other nations before you – you are one nation.’ Let us stay as one united nation.”
Imam Jawad Ahmed of the Islamic Society of NJ in Budd Lake said, “When we work together to save lives, we are saving everybody. […] These haters are our enemy, and we need to help them. We need to stop them, and stop this mayhem. It’s about time we came together as one nation, indivisible.”
Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-25) told the group that when the Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center was in the process of being built, some people in Boonton were less than welcoming, but his father was mayor and he said, “Not here in Boonton; we are going to be welcoming.” Bucco said that in Trenton, “a resolution passed in committee condemning hatred and bias” two weeks ago. He said laws were passed in January, one adding funding for security for religious schools, and the other providing security measures for houses of worship. He said coming together as a community, educating people, and prayer will bring about change.
Boonton Mayor Matthew DiLauri called the Islamic Center “an epicenter for love and caring.” He said the gathering was a sign of the closeness and love, and the people of Boonton stand behind, and with, the Muslim people.
Khan introduced the first female Muslim mayor in New Jersey, Sadaf Jaffer of Montgomery, who thanked the gathering for the “kind and powerful words.” She said it’s important for political leaders to speak out against white supremacists, anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism, because “leaders do set the tone, and these types of hate crimes rise when leaders share these types of sentiments.”
Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano paraphrased Dr. Martin Luther King by saying, “Friday was a pretty dark day. […] We are in dark times, but there’s still so much light around us and there’s still so much beauty around us. I see it, here in this room.”
The event ended with those present clasping each other’s hands, raising their hands and declaring, “We are united!”
Freeholders Doug Cabana and John Krickus, Rev. Leslie Hay of Good Shepherd Church in Towaco, Rev. Dr. Debra Duke of Community Church in Mountain Lakes, Rabbi Mark Finkel of Pine Brook Jewish Center in Montville and Rev. Lynne Grifo of St. Peter’s Church in Mountain Lakes also spoke at the event.
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