Daniel Khokhar was on his way to Friday prayer with his friends when a feeling of uneasiness swept over him.
A gunman had just opened fire on two mosques in New Zealand, killing 50 and injuring dozens.
He broke the silence in the car to express his anxiety. His friend responded, validating his feelings, but insisted it was safe to practice Islam in Gainesville.
“He stated that, ‘You know, it’s justified for you to feel uneasy, but the people of Gainesville are good,’” Khokhar said.
Khokhar, looking around at the crowd at the Christchurch memorial Monday night, felt his friend’s statement was affirmed by the appearance of community members.
“This gathering right here is just a reassurance to me that no matter how we look on the outside, we all bleed red, and we’re all human,” the vice president of external affairs of UF Islam on Campus said.
Khokhar’s story was just one of several told at the flower memorial hosted by Islam on Campus. About 150 people gathered to remember the lives lost in the mosques of Christchurch, New Zealand.
The event featured prayers, five speakers and flowers to honor the victims.
Members of the Gainesville community who attended the event included students, community religious leaders, local residents and several members of Moms Demand Action, an anti-gun violence organization.
Sana Nimer, the Islam on Campus president, stood tall on Turlington Plaza on a concrete table wearing a salmon-colored headscarf with a microphone in her hand.
She started the vigil off with a speech about the victims of the tragedy, the youngest of whom was 3. Despite tearing up occasionally in the speech, she spoke eloquently as she opened up about her life as a Muslim woman.
“Here, our reality is one that still has hate. You can flee imminent threat and danger only to be killed by hate and terror,” she said.
Nimer urged individuals to engage in the Muslim community not just in times of tragedy and emphasized the importance of speaking out against hate.
“It wasn’t too long ago that I was standing right here in this very square with my Jewish brothers and sisters, as they mourned for the lives taken at the Tree of Life synagogue,” she said. “And just before that, it was a church.”
After Nimer’s speech, there was a moment of silence that lasted a couple of minutes for attendees to lay down the yellow, white and purple carnations and daisy poms on a prayer rug that sat in front of the table where speakers presented.
After the moment of silence, a prayer was delivered followed by a speech from UF President Kent Fuchs, who addressed the UF community.
“Each of you are here because you love your Muslim brothers and sisters,” Fuchs said. “I pray that this indeed will be a university where we love one another and that love spreads worldwide.”
Other speakers included UF journalism junior Nushrat Nur who read an article about her experiences growing up in mosques, and Reuben Faloughi spoke representing the Counseling & Wellness Center, urging students to use healing resources after this tragic event.
Amna Qureshi, a 22-year-old UF psychology senior, and Anum Keen, a 19-year-old UF biology sophomore, were both glad they attended the vigil. As Muslim students, they enjoyed the community brought together by the event.
Qureshi said she usually feels safe in Gainesville, but it was nice to see that there were so many allies at the event.
“At first, I didn’t want to come because it’s just a lot of emotion,” Qureshi said. “But I’m really glad I did because they kind of, I guess, validated how I feel.”
Khokhar closed the memorial with a brief statement that emphasized the importance of love among all in this time of mourning.
“Like an arrow, may we use this event to pull the hate backward to be launched forward progression of love,” he said.
Ibrahim Ragab, a 21-year-old biology senior, closes his eyes Monday during a moment of prayer at a memorial for the victims of the New Zealand mosque shootings. “I’m Muslim and I wanted to empathize with my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters who have lost their lives in such a tragic way,” he said.