Metro

‘The ugliest form of terrorism’: Mass. leaders denounce white supremacy after massacre

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center hosted an emotional prayer service Friday.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center hosted an emotional prayer service Friday.

Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders denounced white supremacy and expressed grief and horror during an emotional prayer service Friday at Boston’s largest mosque, hours after an attack on two mosques in New Zealand killed at least 49 worshipers.

Shaykh Yasir F. Fahmy, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, told hundreds of worshipers at the service not to fear, to stay strong in their faith, and to fight against the white supremacism that he said fueled the attack on the mosques in New Zealand and on churches and synagogues in this country.

“This is terrorism. This is the ugliest form of terrorism. And too many innocent people from all walks of life have suffered because of it,” he said.

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“It is not arbitrary that so many of the targets of these terrorists have been synagogues and churches and mosques,” he added. “That’s a reflection of the demonic nature of this ideology.”

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He urged the crowd to “push back with excellence” and stand against hatred.

“Be like palm trees,” he said. “You can hit and you can hit hard. But you will not move us.”

Despite the words of comfort and encouragement, worshipers said they were scared to come to Friday prayers.

“I won’t lie. I almost didn’t come today because I woke up to the news on my feed, and I was afraid,” said Nehal Mubarak, 26, as she arrived at the mosque in Roxbury, to the sound of a muezzin calling Muslims to prayer.

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She said she was comforted by the sight of police cruisers parked outside, but she still felt “anger and fear, and a numbness that takes over at some point.”

“Unfortunately, I’ve become used to these events happening, as a lot of us have,” she said. “But I think anger and fear should be used to fuel actions, and I think showing up here today helps.”

Law enforcement officials in Boston and across the state said they had stepped up security at mosques and other houses of worship but stressed the increased patrols were precautionary and not a response to a direct threat.

In Roxbury, Fahmy and others said the massacre recalled attacks on other houses of worship, including the shooting last October at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which killed 11 people, and the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., which killed nine people.

“All of us are here just to be alongside you because you’ve been alongside us, because we’ve stood together as communities time and time again,” said Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.

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“Candidly, we’ve become too good at this,” Burton said. “And when we have mourned and suffered, we have known that we have not suffered alone. And we want you to know that you do not suffer alone.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh told the worshipers that “our hearts are broken for the people in New Zealand.”

“This is a tragic, tragic situation that unfolded last night,” he said, calling it a “racist act” and a “hateful act.”

“We want you, the Muslim community here in Boston and in Massachusetts, to know that we are your brothers and sisters, that we stand with you, we pray with you, we cry with you, we support you,” Walsh said.

The Rev. Ray Hammond, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain, reminded worshipers of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s apothegm that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“These are dark and terrible times in which our country and our world are passing, but hatred will not have the final say,” Hammond said.

The sense of resolve was shared by religious leaders at other mosques.

“We cannot let ourselves be intimidated,” said Nichole Mossalam, director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Medford. “That is exactly what individuals like this seek to do. If anything, we need to see this as inspiration for dialogue, and for outreach, and for being in solidarity with everyone in our community.”

At the Islamic Center of New England, a mosque in Quincy, Izhar Kazmi, 70, the board treasurer, expressed concern for his community.

“People in prayer are an easy target,” Kazmi said. “Unfortunately, this is the world we are living in. Every month, there is something like this, an attack, and it’s not just [happening to] Muslims.”

Kevin Ashton, a 57-year-old Jamaica Plain resident, said he was determined to attend Friday prayer in Roxbury, as he does every week.

But he lamented that he and others have to pray under police guard.

“You have police in school, as well,” Ashton said. “It’s just the culture now, which is a sad statement on humanity.”

Globe correspondents Jeremy C. Fox and Leah Samuel contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.