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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

NYU Abu Dhabi holds candlelit vigil to honour victims of New Zealand shooting

Event also heard from New Zealand students at the university

Students in Abu Dhabi have come together to remember the innocent victims of the New Zealand terror attack.

At least 100 people took part in a candlelight vigil and observed a minute’s silence at the New York University Abu Dhabi campus on Monday.

Students from New Zealand attending the university also spoke of their pain during the remembrance ceremony.

“I looked at the news and it was shocking to see New Zealand as breaking news on CNN,” said Thomas Yates, 22, who is from Wellington. “Being away from it all and knowing that people are grieving. It is difficult to come to terms with it all.”

Another student, Katie Glasgow-Palmer, said it still did not feel real. “We have never had terror activity on this scale and I wish I could be at home,” said Ms Glasgow-Palmer, 20, who is from Auckland.

The ceremony was a poignant one at the university's central plaza. Despite the gusts of wind that rolled into the campus after sunset, attendees knelt on the ground, placed their hands around the candles and prevented them from being extinguished.

Prayers from the Quran were recited while people from across the diverse student body stood together in honour of the victims, and also to express the hope that senseless violence cannot defeat true diversity. Baraka Blue, a rapper and poet from Seattle, who was in town for a lecture, also attended the event.

The attacks at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday killed at least 50 people. Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a self-described white supremacist, has been charged with murder.

Ms Glasgow-Palmer said she believed the attack was a wake-up call. “Initially I felt quite ashamed but perhaps New Zealand has been oblivious or apathetic to the rise of white right-wing supremacy," she said. "I feel we have been ignoring it.”

The event was organised by Lama Ahmad, 21, a Muslim-American who grew up in Dearborn, Michigan. Ms Ahmad said she feels a deep sense of grief, sadness and anger about the shooting. “I’m no stranger to the hatred and bigotry and terrible things that have led up to an event like this,” she said. “People have made comments about me blowing up bombs. I’ve encountered this. My friends have encountered this."

Ms Ahmad said the shooting was not some random act but had built up over time to say that Muslims represented something foreign and it was profoundly worrying. "It is a feeling of wondering whether I can be safe praying in a mosque, going to Friday prayers, living my life and being a person.”

NYUAD has students from 120 countries. Ms Ahmad said, at NYUAD everyone was accepting of each other but it was important to remember the victims and also examine how the harmony on Saadiyat can translate into life outside the campus walls. “The response [to the event] has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of wanting to come together. We will graduate and we will go on to spread the message of tolerance,” she said.

Mr Yates and Ms Glasgow-Palmer also said it was important to come together.

“It is great that something is being organised as people are hurting in different ways, whether as Muslim or being from New Zealand," said Mr Yates. "It is good to show solidarity.”

Updated: March 19, 2019 12:59 PM

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