A small vase of flowers gifted from an Oxford local sits on a table in the only Mosque in town.
According to Muslim Student Association adviser Naeemul Hassan, many community members have sent flowers and otherwise reached out during the past week. The effects of the New Zealand shooting that killed 50 people and wounded nearly 50 others worshiping at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has impacted the Oxford community from 8,157 miles away.
“Most of the members of our community have always been self-aware, given the rise of Islamophobia in today’s world,” Muslim Student Association member Norah Daghestani said. “But to now have more fear generated for Muslims to attend to their own sanctuary has been a very difficult circumstance for Muslims, and it pains us deeply.”
The Mississippi Muslim Association released its plan of action for a situation in which it becomes aware of an imminent threat to the Muslim community here in Mississippi. They remind people to be on alert and to look out for suspicious behavior.
“Report anything, and I mean anything, to law enforcement,” Mississippi Muslim Association’s statement reads.
“We have heard opinions from one student who shared concern about security,” Hassan said. “So, he suggested, if it is possible, to kind of collaborate with the Oxford Muslim Society and request the police department have extra security during the Jumu’ah or the weekly prayers.”
In MSA’s statement, the organization calls for the the community to come together.
“There are so many Muslims and non-Muslims coming together to support one another in a time of utter sadness,” Daghestani said. “I have chosen to turn my focus, more than anything, on remembering the victims. By their names, their faces and their beautiful stories that are told, I want to be inspired from who they once were and learn from them to be a better human being.”
The Muslim community in Oxford works to foster relationships with people in the city. Its members welcome guests on Fridays, work with the religion department on campus and host events.
“We work the community in different activities,” said Khaled Elhawy, Imam of Oxford’s mosque. “People are always scared by what they don’t know. I am encouraging people to listen to Muslims, not listen about them from others.”
Elhawy said people with hatred in their hearts can create damage with anything. However, he believes that positive communication is a step in the right direction.
“We should make our talks more peaceful and productive than destructive,” Elhawy said.
Rev. Eddie Willis, campus minister of the Ole Miss Wesley Foundation, acknowledged that while the massacre was nearly 10,000 miles away, the presence of hatred is boundless.
“Being a religious leader, it abhors me that someone would go into a house of worship and harm innocent people,” Willis said.“It also makes us think about our humanity. Sometimes Oxford is in the news, and this is something that could very well happen to us. Hate is everywhere.”
The university released a statement condemning the acts of violence and reminding students there are services available to them if they feel unsafe or have concerns.
“These tragic and senseless acts of violence impact our campus community,” the statement read. “At the University of Mississippi, we condemn bigotry, hatred and violence. We strive to provide students with a safe environment to foster their religious beliefs and spiritual development — no matter the religious affiliation.”
The massacre in New Zealand was the first mass shooting in the country since 1997.
“Whatever people say affects others and affects their decisions and behaviors, so we really need to be concerned about these things,” Elhawy said.