Comments at the “Prayer Service for Victims of the Massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan” at the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge

This afternoon, I attended a “Prayer for Victims of the Massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan,” at the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. The event was coordinated by my friend Dr. M. Ali Chaudry, with whom I have collaborated since the early 1990’s. In speaking with people before the brief service, there was as much shock and sadness about the senseless murder of the two policemen in New York City last night as there was about the massacre of all those innocent children. Dr. Chaudry made it a point to announce that this service was in memory both of the children of Pakistan and the officers in New York.

Part of the service involved Dr. Chaudry’s Sunday morning class of teens reading a prayer. In the prayer, they beseeched the merciful God for “help in bringing an end to all violence” and “in raising our voices over the voices of those who seek destruction and division in every shape and form.” It was quite moving. We also participated in a prayer for the souls of the slain.

As a guest, I was asked to share a few words. Here is, more or less, what I said to the gathering of students, parents and local leaders of the Islamic community:

Good afternoon, friends. I would like to thank Dr. Chaudry for including me in this service. I would like to say what I pleasure it is to be here with you. I would like to, but given the reason we have gathered, I can’t. I, like you, would much rather be somewhere else, doing something other than memorializing victims of hate. Of course, it is good to be together in times such as these, but being here is far from a happy thing.

Recently, I was with our teens at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. At the museum there is a set of four paintings, all of them white, simply blank canvases. I can’t say for certain the intent of the artist, but to me they symbolize the total inability of language or of art to express adequately the tragedy, the horror, the inhumanity, the depth of violent evil to which some stoop in total disregard for the value, the infinite value of each and every individual. Such a feeling as this I have today as well as I think of the horrific murders in Peshawar and in New York City. There are no words adequate for this moment.

I want to express my thanks to the teens for their wonderful prayer. [Addressing the teens] I also want to apologize to you. I want to apologize on behalf of myself and my generation for bequeathing to you a world such as this. I hope that with what you learn here at the Islamic Society, along with your own convictions and strength of faith, you will go out and make this world a better place. With your dedication, I pray that you can create a world as envisioned by our prophet Isaiah, a world in which each person can sit under their vine and fig tree, and no one will make them afraid. Thank you.

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