More than 300 people of various faiths gathered inside the Islam Society of Brevard County (ISBC) on March 23.
Buddhists, Catholics, Jews, Baptists, Muslims and others gathered to honor the 50 lives lost in the mosque shootings that took place in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15.
Many leaders from the community such as a rabbi from Viera, a retired Brevard County judge and others attended to lead prayers and speak at the service.
Amongst those attending were Florida Tech juniors Natalie Tria, a forensic psychology major, and Bayan Saleh, a biomedical engineering major.
Both Tria and Saleh are members of the ISBC.
“It was truly a ceremony of cultural inclusion to demonstrate that the community can come together for a greater cause despite our differences,” Tria said.
After numerous prayers were said, the mosque invited people from the crowd to come forward and share their thoughts. Tria was one voice that stepped forward.
“I spoke because I wanted to let people know that I study offenders and criminals when they’re at their worst,” Tria said. “I stand by the motto ‘by the people, for the people,’ and I wanted them to know that there is hope, and there are others like me that want to make a change to try and prevent these tragedies from happening.”
The Atlantic reported that this was the worst terrorist attack to take place in New Zealand’s history, leading New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to react immediately.
Within six days of the shooting, Ardern was backed by legislative support from her country in banning all assault rifles within New Zealand.
In a live television announcement addressed to the nation, Ardern said, “The guns used in this attack had the power to shoot continuously. The times for the easy availability of these weapons must end. And today, they will.”
In addition to changing gun laws, Arden has also helped pay for the funeral costs of the victims and honor the cultural traditions in which people of Islam faith be buried immediately.
Ardern and investigators returned all the victims’ bodies immediately after autopsies were completed just five days after the shooting happened so their families could hold funeral services.
When asked about how they thought the prime minister of New Zealand was handling the aftermath of the shooting, both Tria and Saleh strongly agreed that Ardern has been responding swiftly and respectfully.
“She compares to no other world leaders who have also faced mass shootings within their own country,” Saleh said. “Almost six months ago the U.S. dealt with a similar shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburg. Yet, why is it that New Zealand was able to change laws within six days while this nation has not been able to do so in six months?”
Saleh, like Tria, said she was also in awe of the amount of support outpouring from the community.
“I think the terrorist wanted us to be broken and hate each other, but what I saw was quite the opposite,” Saleh said. “At the memorial, you couldn’t tell the difference between a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a Jewish woman wearing a hijab as a sign of respect, and that was something that I thought was really beautiful.”
It has been nearly four weeks since the shooting, and people everywhere are still showing support, even in Brevard County.
A week after the memorial service was held at ISBC, Saleh described a husband and wife that came in during Friday prayer with whiteboards that read, “We will keep watch while you pray.”
Saleh said that her heart was touched, and knowing that this support was felt here within the community was something that left her speechless.