ShareThis Page
How New Zealand attack may impact Pittsburgh’s Muslim community | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

How New Zealand attack may impact Pittsburgh’s Muslim community

Paul Guggenheimer
| Friday, March 15, 2019 3:09 p.m
887080_web1_ptr-mosquetragedy01-031619
Paul Guggenheimer | Tribune-Review
Mohammad Sajjad, program director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, discusses the mass shootings in New Zealand on Friday, March 15, 2019.

As a Muslim living in Pittsburgh, Mohammad Sajjad struggled to put into words what he felt about yet another place of worship becoming the scene of a mass shooting.

“It’s horrific that someone would go into a mosque and be able to kill almost fifty people, possibly more,” Sajjad, program director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, said Friday. “It’s hard to digest that because that’s a lot of people and these are our Muslim brothers and sisters. First and foremost we have concern for the people and the families that have been affected by this. It makes me concerned about Muslims all over the world.”

Forty-nine people were killed in the attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayer. A live video of the attack was streamed by a gunman on Facebook.

Officials at the Oakland center, including director Wasi Mohamed, coordinated increased police presence at the center. Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert planned to have officers stationed at both entrances to the Islamic Center during Friday prayer services.

“You never know who else is out there that has these hateful feelings,” Sajjad said.

He said the idea that an attack by a gunman could happen anywhere was driven home months before the tragic events unfolded in New Zealand. Last October, a man attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, opened fire and killed 11 people.

“It happened at the Tree of Life synagogue. When that happened, there was a feeling that this could happen to us. What happened in New Zealand adds another layer of worry and concern. A Muslim congregation was targeted, and the same thing could happen to us,” said Sajjad.

Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light congregations, which are all housed in the Tree of Life building, pledged their support to the Muslim community.

“We stand beside our Muslim brothers and sisters and mourn alongside the families and friends who have lost loved ones in this unconscionable act of violence,” the congregations said in a statement. “We will continue to work toward a day when all people on this planet can live together in peace and mutual respect.”

In addition to Friday prayer, the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh offers five daily prayer services and has its doors open so people can come and go freely to worship. Officials want to keep the center open so people can come and pray whenever they would like to, Sajjad said. But he admits the massacre in New Zealand may force them to reconsider.

“During Friday prayer, we have anywhere from five to seven hundred people attend and it’s very open inside the prayer hall, and the way our service is conducted, men and women sit on the ground,” said Sajjad. “It’s a very open space, and there aren’t many places where you can protect yourself because it’s so open. So, it’s hard to navigate a policy where you are welcoming everyone and having an open-door policy and maintaining a level of regulation.”

Sajjad said he worried about the impact of the New Zealand attack on the future of the Islamic Center.

“It makes me worried about where we are headed. How safe are we? Any Muslim, how safe are we going to be?” said Sajjad. ”When you go to a Friday prayer service, it should be a time of peace and comfort. But for a lot of people, now it’s going to be a time of worry.”

Meanwhile, messages of support have been emailed to the ICP since early this morning, Sajjad said.

“I always feel like people in Pittsburgh have our backs and we have theirs.”

Friday afternoon, the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinical Association sent out a statement of support.

“We stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters in Christchurch, New Zealand, those around the world, and those who stood by us here in Pittsburgh,” the statement said. “Violence committed at the time of prayer is nothing short of an attack on the soul of a people. Gun violence is a plague that impacts lives around the world.”

Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or pguggenheimer@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.