Cleveland Faith Leaders Hold Vigil After New Zealand Mosque Shootings

Imam Islam Hassan of the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland speaks at Friday's vigil.
Imam Islam Hassan of the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland speaks at Friday's vigil. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

Local Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders held a vigil Friday afternoon for the victims of the shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Mayor Frank Jackson and several city council members were among the dozens who gathered with faith leaders on the steps of Cleveland City Hall.

Forty-nine people died in what New Zealand’s prime minister has called a terrorist attack. NPR reports that authorities have charged a 28-year-old suspect with murder.

Julia Shearson of CAIR-Ohio and Masroor Malik of the Chagrin Valley Islamic Center hold signs at the vigil outside Cleveland City Hall. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

Imam Islam Hassan of the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland thanked attendees and offered a message to the perpetrator of the attack: “We’re not scared of you,” he said.

At that moment, loud music overtook the vigil as a truck passed pulling a trailer full of pro-Trump signs, including letters that spelled out, “Build The Wall.”

Hassan paused, then spoke over the music. The driver played “Rock and Roll All Nite,” turned around on Lakeside Avenue and drove by again, playing “God Bless America.”

“We’re going to practice our religion, and we’re going to continue going to the mosques five times a day, and we’re going to continue to worship our Lord,” Hassan said after the truck made its first pass. “Because we believe that our religion is the religion of peace. We believe that love will overcome hate.”

A Cleveland police officer talks with the driver of the truck that passed the vigil. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

Councilman Matt Zone said on Saturday that he alerted a police officer after the driver made an illegal U-turn.

“That is when I ran down to speak with the police officer who kindly told the driver to leave or he would give him a moving violation citation,” Zone wrote on Twitter.

Reached by phone on Saturday, Rob Cortis, the driver of the truck, said it was a “coincidence” that he passed just as the vigil was beginning. Cortis was in the midst of a multi-state trip with his pro-Trump float. He said he passed a second time playing “God Bless America” to “show respect and a salute to the people having a peaceful rally.”

“If there was anybody that was offended,” Cortis said, “I apologize for that.”

Several of the people at the city hall vigil had come together a few months earlier in Beachwood to honor the victims of the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.

“The Talmud teaches us that to take a life is to destroy the world,” Rabbi Noah Leavitt of Oheb Zedek-Cedar Sinai Synagogue said. “Today, we mourn the loss of 49 people, 49 families who have lost their loved ones, 49 worlds that have been destroyed.”

[Nick Castele / ideastream]

Julia Shearson, the executive director of the Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the attack in New Zealand shared a common thread with the killings in Pittsburgh and at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Just as the Pittsburgh killer attacked Jews at their synagogue and the Charleston killer attacked an African-American church, these types of attacks are driven by racial, religious and ethnic hatred,” Shearson said. “And every—every—elected official has a responsibility to denounce these attacks in the strongest possible terms.”

Rev. Joseph Hilinski of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland offered sympathy to the Muslim community.

“That a house of worship where the living and true God is worshipped would be a scene of such carnage, such hate, is heartbreaking to all of us throughout the Catholic world,” he said.

Global Cleveland president and former city councilman Joe Cimperman organized the vigil and introduced speakers.

“Even though it happened what feels like a world away,” Cimperman said, “it feels as if it were our own sisters and brothers.”

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