Lauren Williams, Senior Staff Writer

Despite torrential rain and strong winds in West Chester Dec. 20, teachers, police officers, parents and children of all religious communities gathered at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, 8092 Plantation Dr., to honor the memory of the 26 victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Dec. 14.
Preceding the vigil, interfaith volunteer Shabana Akir Ahmed led an observation of evening prayer in the mosque. Surrounded by Mecca-style black and gold tapestries, viewers sat below a 21-foot crystal chandelier and listened to recitations of the Quran with the congregation. Out of respect, attendees took off their shoes and women covered their hair before entering the prayer hall.
The vigil, held in the Islamic Center gymnasium, was organized by the Muslim Mothers Against Violence (MMAV), a national anti-violent group founded after the 2005 London subway bombings.
Shakila Ahmad, one of the mothers who established the MMAV Cincinnati chapter, said that in order to overcome the serious violence problem in America, parents of different religious and ethnic backgrounds must come together to nurture empathy in the community and teach their children non-conflict resolution skills.
Child psychiatrist Dr. Chaba Chugtai spoke at the vigil about how parents and children can cope with the tragedy in a healthy manner.
“Let’s help our children and let’s help ourselves by channeling our grief into compassion for the victims and their families,” Chugtai said.
Chugtai suggested various ways to involve children in acts of kindness that can ease the grief for the Sandy Hook victims, such as planting a tree in memory of the children, raising funds for a local children’s hospital, and signing the online Sandy Hook Elementary National Sympathy Card.
Religious leaders expressed their sympathies for the victims and their families with prayers from their respective holy books.
“All of us here come from different religious traditions but common to all of us is we have a sense of God’s mercy in our life,” Deacon Jerry Barney of St. John the Evangelist Church in West Chester said. “For those reasons it is good and well we come here together and pray.”
Barney said the concept of peace is universal and present in all the great world religions. “The notion of peace is not just a cessation of hostilities but rather a total wellbeing, a sense of harmony in life,” Barney said.
Jaipal Singh of the Sikh Temple Gurdwara in Dayton expressed his condolences and sympathies on behalf of the Sikh community, which experienced its own loss after a Wisconsin temple shooting in August left six dead and four wounded.
Rabbi Gary P. Zola, executive director of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, said after the vigil that this tragedy is especially painful to Americans because it occurred during the holiday season.
“This was a gruesome, horrible calamity no matter when it would happen, but there’s something even more sorrowful when it happens on the eve of a special moment in human celebration,” Zola said.
President Obama appointed Zola in 2011 to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. As a Jewish historian, Zola’s message for how to deal with the loss of loved ones is to preserve their memories.
“How Jews have handled the tragedies and sorrows and given them meaning is through remembrance, by liturgically memorializing the past,” Zola said.
Zola said a significant part of Sandy Hook remembrance is through the attention to people who are mentally disturbed and the assurance that guns in our society are handled safely.
“I don’t know many people who would like to nullify the Second Amendment,” Zola said. “But we have a societal problem that certainly involves mental illness [and] the sale and availability of weaponry.”
Zola commented on the statements of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee that the removal of God from public schools correlates with the increase in school shootings.
“I cannot align myself with the idea that the reason these things are happening is we are not in touch with God enough,” Zola said. “People can be attuned to an ethical [and] spiritual direction in ways that go beyond theological consideration.”
Adherents of all religious traditions stood side by side at the vigil, lighting their neighbor’s candle and silently uniting in mourning.
“It’s almost uniquely American that we can all come together and, from a pluralistic view, we can show how we’re all pursuing the same end,” Zola said. “That is the best of America.”