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Southern California Muslims react to New Zealand massacre: 'It could have been us'

Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- The worshipers sat in rows inside the mosque, the men in the front and women behind. Dozens of believers of other faiths settled in between.

Hundreds of Muslims, Jews, Christians and Sikhs gathered at the Islamic Center of Southern California on Friday for prayers, some hoping to find the guidance needed to help make sense of the violence that had killed so many of their fellow faithful nearly 7,000 miles away.

"The ugliness of what unfolded cannot be missed," Khaled Abou El Fadl told the crowd. "They are us. It could have been us."

At least 49 people were shot to death at two mosques during midday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday -- gunned down by a white supremacist who broadcast the massacre live on Facebook.

The terrorist attack sent ripples of fear throughout the Muslim community in Southern California, and led police to ramp up their presence outside mosques. A handful of Los Angeles Police Department officers guarded the Islamic Center during prayers alongside private security and sheriff's deputies.

The violence also spawned calls for unity and solidarity with Muslims across the globe.

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In his khutbah, or sermon, Abou El Fadl decried the growth of Islamophobia as he clutched a copy of the shooter's 74-page manifesto. A law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Abou El Fadl had been invited to speak to Islamic center members during Friday prayers.

"Islamophobia has taught everyone that we Muslims do not embrace a religion, but rather, an ideology," he said with force. "That we love to hate, rather than love to love."

Blasting the gunman as an "immoral idiot," Abou El Fadl slammed the political environment that has provided a "steady drumbeat of hateful language that has made your sons and daughters ... so uncomfortable in school that they often try to conceal that they are Muslim."

Twenty minutes later, his speech gave way to prayer. As the congregants knelt and bowed their heads, they made one final invocation: Janazah, the Islamic funeral prayer, uttered for the souls lost in Christchurch.

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