Tracey Hair was at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor preparing to take the oath of citizenship March 15 when she heard that a fellow native Australian had massacred 50 people at prayer at two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques.
Hair, who lives in Bucksport, was one of more than 150 people who attended a vigil Friday afternoon at the Islamic Center of Maine in Orono to remember the lives lost when a 28-year-old lone gunman opened fire in what has been described as a right-wing terrorist attack.
“I’m deeply sorry for the actions of a fellow countryman,” a tearful Hair said. “I can’t explain it. I just want to give my condolences and sympathies and gratitude that you’re here and you’re steadfast in this world. I’m here for you all.”
The 45-minute vigil began about 1 p.m. following jumma, the weekly congregational prayer service. Originally planned as an outside event, it was inside the mosque due to Friday’s steady rain.
Members from two Bangor synagogues and the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, an Orono town councilor, and a dozen or so others expressed sympathy for and solidarity with Muslims who live, work and attend school in northern Maine. Members of the mosques reached out to the Jewish community in October after an attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue left 11 dead.
“The grief and the fear that Muslims must feel should cause us to recognize our shared humanity,” said Mary-Anne Saxl, president of Congregation Beth El. “What happened to Jews has happened to Muslims — people of faith gathered together for prayer on their Sabbath gunned down by extremists and a racist. What a terrible thing it is that this is what brings us together.
“Religions don’t divide people,” Saxl of Blue Hill said. “Religions are what enable humans to sing in harmony. The opposite of faith is not someone else’s faith. The opposite of faith is hatred.”
Kay Carter of Hampden urged those at the vigil to keep in mind a Quaker prayer.
“‘There is a spirit which I feel which delights to do no evil,’” she said. “And, I think that prayer, for all of us here, in our wider community, and our world community, is to find that spirit in ourselves that delights to do no evil and let it shine to all around us.”
Omar Conteh, a spiritual leader at the mosque, said that he was grateful for the cards, flowers and letters of support the Muslim community has received. A longtime resident of Greater Bangor, he thanked the community for its continued support since plans for a mosque in Orono were presented to town officials in 1999. It opened in 2002.
“There has never been a day we feared our neighbors,” he said. “We have never feared that something would happen at our mosque. When we began making plans to put up our building, the only concern was about whether we would be calling people to prayer with an outside speaker early on a Saturday morning, which we don’t do. We are extremely grateful for this community.”
The mosque holds an annual open house and has an active outreach program that provides speakers who dispel myths about the tenets of Islam and the Quoran.