Dozens from Burlington area attend to support Muslim community
By Christina Elias
People from throughout the Burlington area gathered at 7 p.m. Thursday night to participate in a prayer vigil at the local masjid, where attendees formed a circle around the mosque, holding votive candles to light up the chilly night.
Before the vigil began, attendees crowded into the building, spilling out of the doors. Rev. Phil Hardy of Life’s Journey United Church of Christ, who helped organize the event, estimated there were around 200 people in attendance – he said organizers had 160 votive candles and ran out.
Saher Sayed, president of the masjid’s board, said that the initiative was started by Hardy and was a “natural reaction to the latest negative news and decisions in the media.” Hardy said that a small group of clergy and mosque representative met and decided some type of event needed to happen in response to the rhetoric surrounding Muslim communities.
“We chose to explain our feelings by showing that prayer is what brings us together in love, peace and harmony,” Sayed said.
Sayed was surprised to see how many people came to participate in the prayer vigil, and hopes to organize similar events in the future. Sayed said that while this event was prayer-based, he would like the next to focus on doing things like service together in the broader community.
“It was really heartwarming to see that many people who chose to care,” he said, and that he value “the role that Elon students played in this. At any moment they could have chosen to be doing any other thing but they chose to be here”
Hardy said that social media played a large role in bringing people together for the event, especially the Facebook event page, which was how many attendees discovered the prayer vigil.
“To be frank, this was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever organized because people were so excited to be part of it,” Hardy said. “It grew pretty large pretty fast.”
The election cycle and President Trump’s travel ban prompted the meeting of religious leaders in the area, according to Hardy.
“We felt we needed another voice to show that the people of this faith community are part of our lives,” he said. “They are plain and simple part of us”
Mayor of Burlington and Elon alumnus Ian Baltutis was in attendance and said he felt it was important for him as mayor to show his support.
“It’s a wonderful, organic gathering of people committed to building a welcoming, accepting, tolerant community,” he said. “I was reveling in the energy. Each person came out for their own reason and brought a lot of energy … It was very powerful.”
Beth Kennett, a resident of Burlington, works as a church consultant and clergyperson. She said she had not been to the mosque since it opened and attended the vigil with her daughter, Abby.
“There were more people here than I expected. It really warmed my heart. Not my hands,” she laughed, “but my heart.”
Kennett said she spoke to a woman who had driven from High Point to attend.
“I felt a sense of welcome in our community and I think that’s important for the people who live here,” she said. “For all of us to know that there’s a place we can experience community together”
During the 15-minute prayer vigil, Hardy said he felt the “overwhelming sense that this community wants to be welcoming. The spirit of people here sends a very profound message about who we want to be and who we can be.”