On Friday, when the Public Relations officer of my school, Austin Peace Academy, approached me, the President of the Student Council, with the idea of a vigil for the San Bernardino shooting victims, I was hesitant.
Certainly not because I do not support this cause, but because of so many other factors involved: a possible violent reaction, hateful comments, the absence of our Student Council Advisor due to a conference, and the idea that successfully orchestrating a vigil days before final exams left the only available day that Sunday night, leaving no time to advertise.
And although I explained these reasons to her, she was persistent. When I talked it over with my mother over tea, she set a hand on my shoulder and spoke.
Beta, I cannot stress how important it is for you guys to do this. Even if five people show up, it embodies a clarity of intention. I am sure that the victims, no matter where they are, will feel loved and respected. If you guys don’t represent the Muslim community, who will?”
Her question echoed in the gullies and ravines of my mind for hours to come, and then a realization hit me like “the Quan.”
The vigil had to be done. It had to be done for those wounded and brutally murdered victims, the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters just like us. It had to be done to join both Muslims and non-Muslims to stand hand in hand in the face of disgusting ideologies such as those of ISIS. It had to be done to prove to God, ourselves, and our neighbors that we can coexist.
Moments later, I was home glued to my desk chair in a frenzy of emails, over what felt like thousands of Google documents with my beautiful student council, conference phone calls, group messages, and panic. It was in those endless hours where I discovered two things: firstly, that if you want to make a public event on Facebook you have to be over eighteen, and secondly, if your intentions are good and your mind is clear, everything else will fall into place.
We had to act fast. Once all of our descriptions, dates, and times were approved, we made a Facebook page and invited anyone and everyone…regardless of their faith, color, gender, or political belief. The executive committee devised a program consisting of a few speeches (including one by myself, our local Imam, and two other students), a song recital, spoken word performance, Quranic recitation, a moment of silence, and a procession of light.
Soon, I was on a twenty-minute phone call with my school’s principal making confirmations on a security guard’s presence among other logistics, and then I received an email from a teacher requesting we phone local news. Although it was a far shot, we tried anyway. Within a few hours, I was doing my happy dance on the kitchen counter: two news outlets, KVUE and Fox News 7, had replied to my email and committed to recording at my school, the Austin Peace Academy in Texas, and airing the event.
The event formally began at six in the evening, and I couldn’t be more anxious. Questions such as “what if someone tries to hurt us?” and “what if the event fails and makes the Muslim community look bad?” popped in my mind.
I paced from the storage room to the cafeteria making last minute touch ups alongside my council, and by the time I returned, seats and tables aligned quickly, tablecloths laid, posters went up, candles organized, interviews conducted, cameras set up, and students… proud. Between swigs of iced coffee, constant reassurances and shoulder pats, I was ready for the evening.
The event occupied about 60 people or so including a few non-Muslims, which was, nonetheless, something refreshing to see. Minus a few technical difficulties, the event flowed smoothly, and I couldn’t be more relieved. During the moment of silence, I glanced around to see so many different types of people with one common goal: prayer for the victims. My heart filled.
Once the event was over, I checked social media with my fingers crossed. A few tweets here and these…and then, the chat bubble went off in our Student Council chat. Within a few minutes, coverage of our event would be streamed live. Waves of excitement, contentment, and happiness enveloped me. For those next few minutes I spent watching my fellow students and volunteers making even the slightest difference, reading all the positive feedback, and pleased with our efforts, I felt on top of the world.
You don’t have to belong to a particular group to rally support for it. You don’t have to be silent when a voice needs to be heard, and that too desperately. This event taught me that when the world knocks you on your knees, you will find that you are in perfect position to pray.
These tragedies all around the world have encouraged me to continue advocating for peace regardless of the circumstance and continue to fight against terrorism, as “darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
[All photographs are courtesy of Saood Altaf.]
Duriba Khan, or “D-Dawg”, is a sixteen-year-old blogging, vlogging, photographing, filmmaking, sketching geek who enjoys long, romantic walks to the refrigerator. She is half-Pakistani and half-Indian and currently resides in Austin, Texas. Duriba also feels uncomfortable writing about herself in the third person. For more of Duriba’s work, check out her blog.