Photo by Kyle West

CW: Islamophobia, violence


On March 19, hundreds of students, faculty and staff filled the McMaster University Student Centre courtyard to mourn the victims of the Christchurch massacre.

The terrorist attack was committed on March 15 by a white supremacist who opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing a total of 50 people and injuring 50 others.

The attack was considered the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s recent history.

The vigil was organized by the McMaster Muslim Students Association in collaboration with the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the McMaster Womanists. The three groups brought 15 speakers from various parts of the community to speak.

The vigil began with a recitation from the Quran.

In a particularly poignant moment following the recitation, the organizers honoured and read out the names of the 50 who died due to the attack.

A theme echoed throughout the vigil was that the attack reflected a larger movement of white supremacy, Islamophobia and bigotry across the globe.

“White supremacy exists, toxic masculinity exists, misogyny exists. Xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia exist. These things exist in New Zealand, in the United States. They also exist right here in Canada, in Ontario, in Hamilton,” said Khadijeh Rakie, a staff member of the McMaster Equity and Inclusion Office.

Rakie encouraged Muslim people to grieve freely.

“I don’t think our strength or grief must be looked at in one way, or need to be performative or palatable or always available for public consumption,” said Rakie.

Speakers pointed out the connection between Christchurch and the 2017 Quebec mosque attack, completed by a white supremacist, which killed six people in prayer.

“Far-right populist leaders around the world and false media narratives have stoked the fires behind the dehumanization and demonization of Muslims worldwide, causing events like the one in Christchurch,” said one student speaker.

Many speakers also expressed appreciation for other faith groups who have supported and stood in solidarity with them since the attack.

Other speakers encouraged Muslim and non-Muslims alike to actively stand against discrimination in all its forms.

“As different societies face all forms of prejudice, persecution and rhetoric against immigrants, refugees, visitors and worshippers of all kinds of faith, backgrounds, and communities, we must all stand together against all forms of violence, ignorance and hatred,” said another student speaker.

Mahmood Haddara, the president of McMaster MSA, called for compassion and unity.

“We need at times like these to build those connections with each other, to turn towards each other, to remind ourselves of that love and that connection, to look at the person next to you regardless  of their skin colour or their belief and remind yourself that they are your brother or sister in humanity,” said Haddara.

Following the speeches, the organizers held an open prayer in the MUSC atrium.

Gachi Issa, one of the organizers of the vigil, said she is grateful for the support from the McMaster community and hopes the vigil will also spark discussion about discrimination and Islamophobia in Hamilton and on the McMaster campus.

“The message is first and foremost to mourn these [50] and counting victims in New Zealand, but it’s also to localize it,” said Issa. “The same thing that has killed them affects us here.”


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Photos C/O McMaster Hillel

CW: mentions of violence, anti-Semitism

By: Daniella Mikanovsky

On Oct. 30, McMaster students, faculty and staff gathered on the field near Burke Science Building to mourn the deaths of the 11 people who lost their lives during the Oct. 27 Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting, committed by a man espousing Nazi rhetoric.

The McMaster community was joined by rabbis and Hamilton community members as they addressed the tragedy that unfolded the previous weekend.

The vigil, organized by McMaster Hillel, the Jewish community organization on campus, sought to honour the victims, reflect on the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism and encourage hope and a united community.

[spacer height="20px"]At the memorial service, Max Librach, the president of McMaster Hillel, spoke about the victims and the relationship between the tragedy and his own experiences.

“I myself was praying in a synagogue on that same day. I do not for a second forget that this could easily have happened right here, in my own community,” said Librach.

Fourth-year McMaster student Max Greenberg recited El Ma’aleh Rachamim, a prayer for the departed soul of the dead. Greenberg’s prayer was followed by a poem about the Pittsburgh shooting. After the poem was recited, a few Psalms and the Mourner's Kaddish, a prayer recited in memory of the victims, were said.

The mourners were joined by members of other faith groups who expressed their commitment to advocacy and combating anti-Semitism and discrimination against marginalized communities.

Rabbi Hillel Lavery-Yisraëli of the Beth Jacob Synagogue in Hamilton praised the Jewish community’s sense of unity and solidarity.

“We must draw strength from our community, our peers, and the communities of friends and supporters we are fortunate to have, and forge on forward, actively fighting hate and bringing about a better tomorrow,” he said.

In the multi-faith vigil co-organized by Rabbi Hillel later that evening at Temple Anshe Sholom, several faith leaders joined mourners in addressing the importance of togetherness and solidarity.

Judith Moses Dworkin, the director of McMaster Hillel, encourages and appreciates the allyship during this difficult time.

“We know that we have many partners on campus who continue to show us their support. We urge our friends in other communities to join us in speaking out and countering anti-Semitic hatred whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. Only together can we truly heal from events like these,” she said.

Anti-Semitism continues to manifest itself in Hamilton, both subtly and more overtly. According to the CBC, in 2017, Jewish people were the most targeted group in religious-based hate incidents in Hamilton.

In the recent Oct. 22 municipal election, Paul Fromm, a self-proclaimed white supremacist associated with the neo-Nazi movement, garnered 706 votes.

“We have experienced some anti-Semitism in Hamilton over the past few years, but nothing more than graffiti, threats, and publication of a hate newspaper,” said rabbi Hillel. “Nonetheless, after the attack we are all feeling afraid and vulnerable. When all is said and done, we are not that much different from Pittsburgh,” he said.

McMaster Hillel is hopeful that they can support the Jewish community in the wake of the tragedy and increase public awareness about anti-Semitism and hatred on campus and in the community.

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On Feb. 12, students, faculty, and members of the McMaster community braved the cold to attend a vigil organized by the McMaster Muslims For Peace and Justice in memory of the three young Muslim students shot and killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The event featured a number of speakers, including an imam, several students from MMPJ and the Muslim Students Association, and members of the Hamilton Muslim community.

The three victims, Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were killed by their neighbour, a man who was described as being hostile to religion. Despite being a hate crime, the incident was widely reported as being the result of a "parking dispute."

“It really hit me hard that they were students just like me,” said Sameh Helmy, one of the event’s speakers and organizers. “[Deah Barakat] seemed like a guy who would have been my friend…I felt like I could have been there.”

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Students were encouraged to sign a banner that will be sent to the families of the victims, and MMPJ representatives sold flowers to collect funds for Syrian Dental Relief, an organization that provides dental care for Syrian refugees, a cause Barakat was heavily invested in.

Speakers focused on the attack and the poor reporting by the media in the hours following the shooting. However, they also highlighted the importance of standing together in the face of hardship and making positive connections with the greater community. One speaker was especially firm about this point and reminded the audience, “facts don’t change people’s opinions. Relationships do.”

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