Families at a vigil to protest the terror attacks in an Army school in Pakistan, in Sacramento, Dec. 20. (All photos: Ras Siddiqui)

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Close to 500 people from all walks of life gathered together at the steps of the California State Capitol building in Sacramento, Dec. 20, to participate in a Candlelight Vigil to remember the 132 school children and 9 staff members killed by terrorists in Peshawar, Pakistan, writes Ras Siddiqui.

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Most of the attendees were Pakistani-Americans and local Muslims including many area Imams, and this time a substantial number of Indian-Americans also came to show their support along with members of Sacramento’s vibrant interfaith community, representatives of state officials plus the local media. Understandably a great many of those present were children who came to support the memory of their fellow school kids killed. It was a cloudy-overcast day with light sprinkles, reflective of this somber occasion. It reflected the general mood. As one speaker (Reverend Jones) said, the raindrops were “God’s Tears” for the innocent lives lost.

Children addressing the vigil to protest the terror attacks in an Army school in Pakistan, in Sacramento, Dec. 20.

Children addressing the vigil to protest the terror attacks in an Army school in Pakistan, in Sacramento, Dec. 20.

Four local organizations arranged this vigil led by the Pakistani American Association of Sacramento, American Muslim Voice Foundation (Sacramento Chapter), CAIR Sacramento Valley and the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations (COSVIO). The Sacramento Chapter of PTI and supporters of PML (N) and the PPP were also active in this effort. This time everyone was on the same platform, a show of solidarity with (one) humanity, irrespective of party, faith, race, gender or national origin.

The event started off with emcee Sohail Shahzad saying that December 16 was a very sad day worldwide and in Pakistan with the killing of 141 people during a terrorist attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar with 132 children amongst the victims. He said that we were all here to condemn that action and show unity with the affected families. He invited Imam Abdul Azeez to get things started with an opening prayer. Azeez began with a recitation from the Holy Quran and then delivered an eloquent and effective Islamic condemnation of this murderous act against children. He said that we are standing here tonight in this rain to mourn, not because they were Muslim, not because they were from Pakistan but we are mourning them because they were children. He also asked for a prayer for victims of violence everywhere.

Next Bashir Choudhry, President of the Pakistani American Association started with a prayer for the departed. He thanked the local interfaith community for being here to share in our grief. He said that on hearing the sad news of the December 16 killing of children he had broken down in tears. He added that governments and religious leaders worldwide need to unite to eradicate terrorism.

Families at the Candlelight Vigil in Sacramento.

Families at the Candlelight Vigil in Sacramento.

CAIR Sacramento’s Basim Elkarra next read messages of condolences from elected officials including Betty Yee and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. He also invited Bobbie Singh-Allen, president of the Elk Grove Unified School District to say a few words. Bobbie said that she was here as a representative of the greater Sacramento Indian American community, the Punjabi community, the Sikh community, and as a mother. “We are all Pakistani today and mourn the loss of our children. These were our kids. Our future,” she said. She ended her speech with a quote from Malala Yousafzai – “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” Also from Elk Grove, City Council Member Steve Ly added to these views.

Many other speakers from the Asian, interfaith and Muslim community spoke here. Representing Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, Durriya Syed, related his deep condolences and that he stands in solidarity with our community. She said that these kids killed in Pakistan were particularly targeted because their parents were fighting against terrorism for us all.

Next, Reverend Allen Jones of the United Methodist Church in Sacramento was extremely reflective in his delivery. We are all sensing the deep sorrow, he said. He said that we need to reverse the history of religious antagonism. He added that in loving each other we all show our true faith. Bishop Ron Allen followed next adding passion to his speech. He said that criminals don’t care who they hurt. It is a sad time in our history. It is a sad time in our lives. When we have terrorist murderers and cowards who would kill our children something must be done. And for that to happen, the walls of (religious) division must come down. Elizabeth Sholes of the California Council of Churches also offered her words of grief.

Also speaking on the occasion in both English and Hindi, Pratibha Shalini from the Hindu community expressed her deep condolences. Pratibha went a step further and asked a very pertinent question. What about after this Candlelight Vigil? Or in other words, where do we go from here? She was followed by Tom Bhe of the APAPA organization who added his views.

Speaking in Punjabi Narinderpal S. Hundal and in English Harkirat Singh both of the local Sikh community voiced their support. This writer also got the opportunity to say a few words. Additionally Imam Luqman Ahmad of Masjid Ibrahim, Irfan Haq of COSVIO along with Basim Elkarra all added a great deal to the event with their speeches. But it was the community children themselves who presented the icing on the cake here as Khizar, Zainub, Zaina and Usaid shared their own thoughts on this tragedy. These kids represent the future of the community and with God’s blessings it appears to be in good hands.

The closing prayer was presented by Imam Qasmi of the Sacramento Downtown Muslim Mosque. Imam Qasmi who hails from India said that the perpetrators of this heinous of killing these school children have violated just about every tenet of religion.

To conclude, this vigil was held at the California State Capitol footsteps within a short distance of the brightly lit Christmas tree, an annual tradition which signifies joy in our lovely state of California. But for many of us most of the joy of the season has been extinguished by terrorism. It is as if the lights on our trees have been turned off and the night is long and dark.