Straight From the Source: Have faith, not fear, this Friday

Editor's note: Kiran Ansari is a writer, entrepreneur and mom. A Muslim who grew up in Dubai, she now lives in Elgin with her husband and children ages 17, 14 and 4. A mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand killed 49 people on Friday, the holy day for Muslims.

When I read about the horrific massacre that left 49 dead in two New Zealand mosques on Thursday night, my mom-mind first went to my own children.

They had a half-day of school scheduled, which would enable them to go to Friday prayers. I don't really believe in coincidences. I believe everything happens for a reason. I think it was meant to be, as a test for me and all those parents who might wonder should our kids go for Friday prayers at the mosque this day?

Fridays have always been very special for me. We were off from school on Friday and Saturday growing up in Dubai. Even though "Jummah" is just the Arabic and Urdu word for Friday, it is synonymous with the special afternoon congregational prayer at the mosque that is preceded by a sermon. As kids we didn't attend the mosque every week, but we had special prayers and rituals we did at home. I also remember having biryani - an aromatic rice and chicken pilaf - every Friday, after my Dad returned from the mosque. It was not until I was in college that I experienced Friday as a working day. Living in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago for the last 20 years, my husband tries to make it for jummah as often as possible, but the kids go only when they are off from school, like yesterday.

Geographically, the attacks in New Zealand may have happened far away, but emotionally they hit very close to home. I brushed away my worries and beefed up the prayers I read every day for protection. If my teenagers were planning on going to the mosque, they would go. We will not let people filled with hate and venom stop us from practicing our faith in a peaceful manner.

My teenage son attends a youth program at the mosque on Friday evenings. Many mosques around the country host such activities to provide youths with some constructive options on a Friday night. They discuss a topic with their mentors, eat and play basketball. As parents, we feel our teenagers are safe on Friday night because they are at the mosque. I pray we continue feeling that way.

The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that there will come a time when practicing Islam will be like grasping a hot coal. Some days I feel perhaps that time has come - a time when having a Muslim name may single you out for a random security check at the airport, when wearing a head scarf may invite a dirty stare, and when you think twice before going to the mosque.

Soon after the breaking news from New Zealand, my social media newsfeed started buzzing with cautionary messages from CAIR Chicago and other Muslim civil rights organizations asking the community to be alert and for mosques to ask their local police departments for extra security today.

We started receiving messages from Muslim scholars urging that no one should view or share the gruesome footage but rather pray for the victims and their loved ones. They reminded us how we are one body and when one limb aches, the whole body is in pain. We started receiving messages from LaunchGood and other organizations collecting funds for the families of the victims.

One fact that makes this act most horrific is that the attacker was livestreaming the violence. Some news reports state that he fired first at the elderly who were sitting in chairs as opposed to the more able-bodied congregants who sit on the floor. Some reports also share that he didn't even spare children, innocent young souls who look forward to going for jummah with their parents.

While I reflect on the tragedy, it has been so reassuring to receive messages of support from local faith leaders right here in Elgin. They hurt when we hurt because churches and synagogues have been attacked in the name of hate, too. No one should feel unsafe in their house of worship. No one.

I also read that the person at the door greeted the attacker with "Salaam, brother" before he was gunned down. Just let that sink in. His last words were "Peace, brother."

The only consolation we get is that the victims died on the Best Day (Friday), in the Best Place (the mosque) and in the Best State (in worship.)

Our faith has to be stronger than our fear. Not just on Friday. Not just today. But especially on Friday. And especially today.

A police officer patrols at a cordon near a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers on what the prime minister called "one of New Zealand's darkest days," as authorities detained four people and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack. Associated Press
Worshippers pray for victims and families of the Christchurch shootings during an evening vigil a the Lakemba Mosque on Friday in Wakemba, New South Wales, Australia. At least 49 people have been killed in mass shootings as worshippers gathered for Friday prayers in two New Zealand mosques. Mark Goudkamp via AP
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