By Nikita Mandhani
The flickering flames of candles and the feeling of unity among people of diverse races and faiths created an atmosphere of radiance at the Candlelight Vigil for Humanity at the Tribune Tower Wednesday evening.
Saba Uddin and Fatimah Ayyeh organized the vigil in conjunction with Chicago non-profit organizations to pay respect to the innocent people who lost their lives in recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Syria, Palestine and several other regions.
“We offer our thoughts and prayers to the people who have been affected,” Uddin told the crowd, calling the vigil “a beautiful act of coming together despite inhumane acts of violence and terror around the world.”
Several people shared their thoughts about the recent violent attacks and condemned the perpetuators for fueling hatred in the name of religion.
“Throughout history, religion has been hijacked to commit atrocious acts for selfish, worldly, material gain,” said Ayyeh asserting that “terrorism has no religion” and that people needed to stand together because “the world is in pain.”
According to an April 2015 study by The Bridge Initiative at the Georgetown University, Americans are susceptible to seeing Islam as “more violent” than other religions.
“There are many who are using this moment to further entrench the racism, Islamophobia and endless war at the root of the violence we grieve,” said Michael Deheeger, the Chicago organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace.
Quoting a statement released by the organization, he added, “We know that Muslim communities, already the target of daily discrimination, brutality, violence and war, will face greater danger than ever.”
Some Muslims at the vigil said they have encountered some kind of discrimination or censure in the past because of their religion.
Amena Qureshi, whose parents migrated from Pakistan in the 1980s, has had strangers tell her “to go back where you came from.” She said the framing of Muslims as terrorists makes her infuriated.
In a separate interview, while talking about her “horrific” reaction to the Paris attacks, Qureshi added, “Sadly, the first thing that comes to a Muslim person’s mind is, ‘Oh my God, how is this going to affect my daily life?’”
The University of North Carolina’s sociology department released a paper in 2014 in which Charles Kurzman noted that “since 9/11, Muslim-American terrorism has claimed 37 lives in the U.S. out of more than 190,000 murders during that period.”
“Islam has nothing to do with terrorism and terrorism has nothing to do with Islam,” said Rabya Khan, staff attorney at the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago).
Khan said that people should harbor no confusion or misconceptions about Muslims and should initiate dialogue, working together in collaboration, “no matter what religion or background we are from.”
In keeping with the spirit of the vigil, individuals stepped forward one after the other to convey their solidarity and prayers, quoting a verse from the Quran or a couplet from the Bible.
A pastor from the Edgewater neighborhood, Emily Heitzman, said that in the midst of all the darkness, pain and violence, “with peace comes light.” Describing the strength of the light inside of all of us, she smiled and concluded, “It is powerful because when we all come together, we can bring about love and combat the hate.”