Local Muslims, non-Muslims unite

Najlaa Alharbi, doctoral student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, at University Square, June 21, 2016. Photos by Ethan Brogan.

Najlaa Alharbi, doctoral student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, at University Square, June 21, 2016. Photos by Ethan Brogan.

By Ethan Brogan

INDIANA – Members of the Islamic Center of Indiana PA and the local Muslim community say they are banding together following the June 12 massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando by a self-avowed Islamic jihadist. And they are finding friends among non-Muslims.

Najlaa Alharbi, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania doctoral student from Saudi Arabia, said she tried to explain jihadists to her four children as she watched various national news networks the day after the attack.

“They are talking about groups of crazy people,” Alharbi said in a June 21 interview in a local coffeehouse. “That group doesn’t belong in Islam.”

Alharbi heard about a vigil through the local Islamic center. A week later, on June 19, she stood with 150 Indiana residents at the county courthouse to mourn the 49 shot dead and 53 wounded by Islamic jihadist Omar Mateen in the worst mass shooting in American history.

“It was sad,” Alharbi said, her hand over her heart.

Local Muslims expressed similar reactions.

Mahmood H. Al Homoud, 26, an IUP computer science major, at first did not know what to think.

Mahmood H. Al Homoud, computer science major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, University Square, June 17, 2016.

Mahmood H. Al Homoud, computer science major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, University Square, June 17, 2016.

“The number was so big,” Homoud said in a June 17 interview in University Square. “I was astounded.”

The link between Mateen, who died in the attack, and ISIS bothered Homoud.

“Muslims do not behave this way,” Homoud said. “I was agitated.”

On June 24, 50 Muslims gathered at the local Islamic center to eat, pray and celebrate the holy month of Ramadan. Among them was Ahmed K. Yousof, an IUP communications media doctoral student and president of the Muslim Students Association.

Yousof said he read a news article shortly after the Orlando attack and Mateen.

“Once I read his name I didn’t need to read the rest of the article,” Yousof said.

Ahmed K. Yousof, doctoral student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Stouffer Hall, June 24, 2016.

Ahmed K. Yousof, doctoral student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Stouffer Hall, June 24, 2016.

Yousof said Mateen’s actions affect other Muslims.

“It creates a feeling of unfairness,” Yousof said.

To counter it, the MSA has enlisted 137 members and has worked with the local Islamic center on community engagements, including an interfaith event every fall.

“We invite students from different majors to visit,” Yousof said in a June 24 interview in Stouffer Hall. “Most students who attend are not Muslim.”

Non-Muslims attended the June 19 courthouse vigil, as well. The Rev. Joan M. Sabatino, minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Indiana, Pa., worked with The Center for Community Growth to organize the event.

Rev. Joan M. Sabatino, First Unitarian Universalist Church, Indiana, Pa., courtesy of church website.

Rev. Joan M. Sabatino, First Unitarian Universalist Church, Indiana, Pa., courtesy of church website.

Sabatino said the Orlando killings made her sad, then angry.

“When will the hate stop?” Sabatino asked in a June 29 phone interview.

Ethan C. Brogan a senior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania is from Pittsburgh.

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