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By Ras H. Siddiqui

Sacramento, CA: A “Peace Vigil” was held by the American Muslim Voice (AMV) Foundation (Sacramento Chapter) and assisted by the local CAIR and COSVIO organizations at the western steps of the California State Capitol on Friday, January 9, 2015 to express a unified outrage against the recent terror strike in Paris at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Approximately 100 people attended the vigil including many area Muslims, interfaith and ethnic leaders, and a sizable French and Pakistani origin contingent  from the Sacramento area. During this attack in France, eight journalists and four others were killed, including two police officers. More casualties were reported the following day and at the time of this writing the main culprits of this atrocity have been killed by French security forces.

  Before I proceed with this report some clarification is necessary here. The level of difficulty in writing about such activities has increased as it involves delving into sensitive areas for many people. So let us make one thing very clear. There is no way that we support or encourage ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or any other religious figure.  Nor do we encourage anyone to engage in such activity.  But much more alarming than the tasteless cartoons in Charlie Hebdo is committing murder to defend the Prophet’s honor.  That act for all practical purposes is disgracing his name. Those involved in “freedom of speech” should certainly consider the sensitivities of people. And there are various ways that we can show our collective displeasure. But violence and murder is not an acceptable response and it is from that point of view that this report is being written.muslimholds1

The formalities of the vigil began with AMV Foundation National President Khalid Saeed thanking everyone for coming here and detailed the supporting organizations involved in putting the peace vigil together. "We are here to condemn this terrorist attack," he said. He added that on his own behalf and on behalf of the AMV he condemns this act.  He said that terrorism does not have a religion and that the people who did this are savages who have a savage agenda and towards that agenda they will kill anybody. One of the policemen killed in Paris was a Muslim by the name of Ahmed.  Khalid also recognized vigil participants present on the occasion from Sacramento’s French community.   He then asked a lineup of speakers to come to the stage and introduce themselves before sharing their thoughts.

Tom Hamilton from the Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento (ICGS) spoke first. Tom said that this act in Paris has affected each one of us. He described Muslims as good and Godly loving people and that he has many friends from this community. He added that this {act of violence in Paris) is not who they are. He said that people who did this shame God.

  Imam Qasmi from the Downtown Sacramento Muslim Mosque next asked everyone to observe a moment of silence for the victims in Paris. He said that this is a very sad moment for everybody around the globe and he condemns this attack personally and on behalf of our community and offered his sincere condolences to the families who lost their loved ones. He condemned the terrorist mindset and said that this (terrorism) is impacting Muslim countries (e.g. Pakistan) as well.  This mentality is a totally sick mentality, he said. The religion of Islam does not endorse this.

Former State Assemblymember (and we hope future State Senator) Mariko Yamada also said a few words.  She said that she joined us here today with a heavy heart certainly, but also one who is proud to stand with the Muslim-American community of the greater Sacramento region. She added that it was important for all voices to come together on occasions like this, united in our common humanity. She said that it is important for us to hold up our pen here because this was also an attack on freedom of speech and on freedom of expression.

Chairperson of the SALAM Board Anne Kjemtrup said that this tragedy has hit all of us hard and then shared two surprises with us.   She said that she herself had found both love (her Muslim husband) and Islam in France so this impacted her deeply. She then proceeded to share her grief with members of the French community present in fluent French! 

Danna Elneil representing CAIR (Sacramento Valley) said that her organization strongly condemns this act against the innocent victims in Paris. Tom Bhe of the local Asian organization APAPA also added his sentiments. Beatrice Hildebrand of the  Alliance Franšaise de Sacramento  also touched many hearts here with her short delivery.muslimholds2

Dr Irfan Haq, Chair of the COSVIO organization was next and especially eloquent and detailed in his presentation. He said that on behalf of the Sacramento Muslim community he condemns the acts that have taken place in France. Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, their loved ones and to the people of France. This is not the way of Islam, he added. There are two ironies here, he said.  First, the radicals while shooting were using the words Allah Akbar which means God is most great which is what we use to pray or to celebrate happy occasions. And these criminals used the term while they were murdering these people! The second irony was that the victims were people who used their pen to write which is a gift from God. These criminals went out to destroy the people who used the pen. These are people whose understanding of faith we do not know. They have definitely never read or understood the Qur’an, he said. We have to stand up against them.

  Florin Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Co- President   Andy Noguchi next said that he was glad to stand here with good people standing up for freedom, human life and peace. He added that this attempt to terrorize us has had the opposite effect. It has united people. He said that he wanted to make it clear that this was not an attack by Muslims but an attack by evil, an attack by terrorists and that is our enemy. Looking back at his own family’s WWII Japanese-American experience, he cautioned that we have to be careful to blame the people causing the problem and not the whole Muslim community, many of whom he counts as his close friends.

Kazman Zaidi, President of the Sacramento Taxi Cab Union, Suzana Malik from the Ar Razzaq Food Bank (who has been feeding needy of the community since 2009) followed by two young girls (Usha and Ayesha), and this writer all took the opportunity to strongly condemn this act in France.

Mrs. Durriya Syed who works at the Office of Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and is a Counselor at the Social Services Foundation said that her heart weeps for the victims and their families in France and that she stands in solidarity with all peaceful people-citizens of this world. She said that terrorism has no place in civil society. It destroys the very fabric of humanity and we should all be united against it. There is no other option, she added. We cannot allow these small groups of people to bully the whole world.muslimholds

American Muslim Voice Sacramento Chapter President Asif Sattar offered his concluding remarks by thanking everyone for attending the vigil, especially the French community. He said that this tragic event in France shocked and infuriated him. Everyone is sad. Our prayers go out to the victims and their families, he said.  He also stressed the point that terrorism has no religion.

And just as we were ready to leave, another speaker from the French community, Sophie Lambert appeared on stage and shared her sentiments. She said that she really wanted to thank the Muslim community for putting this (vigil) together. This is beyond touching, she said. This is a hard situation for everyone, especially with the terrorism you are having in your own countries.  We are all very touched and I really wanted to thank you, she added.

  To end this report, thanks are in order to all the organizers and supporters who made this vigil successful. For those who were left out because it was a hurried effort let me add here that this time we could not wait because the deep wound of Peshawar, Pakistan (December 16, 2014) terrorist attack on school children was still hurting many of us. This group wanted no delay in expressing outrage at this act too and in showing solidarity with the French people.  And to the French people who participated, one final observation. We may not like some of the cartoons published in your country and describe them as poor in taste but the French people, as we witnessed at this event, certainly touched our hearts as well.  Vive la France! Let us all unite against terror. [Courtey Pakistan Link - January 16, 2015]

Read also: Vigil in Sacramento for victims of Paris terror attack