Interfaith service in Jacksonville stresses need for unity, love

Hundreds gather to pray for peace, after massacre of Muslims in New Zealand

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Just days after 50 people were killed in a New Zealand attack and more than 40 people were injured, crowds are gathering at the largest Islamic Center in Jacksonville for an interfaith service to pray for the lives lost and show solidarity against violent hate crimes.

The overall theme of Saturday's vigil in Jacksonville was hope, unity and love. The chairman of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida said it was an opportunity for others of different faiths to come together and show their love and support for the grieving New Zealand families.

People came and listened to a message about the lack of tolerance for hate crimes against people of the Muslim community. He said he wants people to start looking at ways to come together. 

"This message is to everybody here, outside and the viewers. Specifically, this message is important to all the children who see these events happening over and over again. Hope, compassion, love and patience is the only way to deal with this," Islamic Center of Northeast Florida Chairman Hafaz Assali said.

In New Zealand, three people were arrested and a 28-year-old man was charged with murder after the shootings in Christchurch.  

People prayed and listened to a message about unity at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida Saturday.

Assali led the vigil.

"The decision behind hosting the vigil is the friends of the community wanted to come in and they wanted to show support and solidarity so we had to open the house to our friends," Assali said. 

The tragedy in New Zealand comes just five months after 11 were killed at a mosque in Pittsburgh. People in attendance of tonight’s vigil are calling these hate crimes.

"It would be very naive to not think about it being a global infrastructure for the hatred... for xenophobia, antisemitism," said Alex Sivar, a vigil attendee.

Although a 28-year-old man was arrested in connection with the attack, Muslim leaders are calling for people to stick together to ensure change.