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Local Muslim Community Addresses Mental Health And Security Concerns After New Zealand Massacre

Dima Shabaneh (left) and Faizan Syed (right) recapped local events that have taken place in commemoration of the victims of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand,
Lara Hamdan and Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Although Christchurch, New Zealand is approximately 8,000 miles away from St. Louis, the terrorist attack on two mosques left many locals in total sense of disbelief, heartbreak and sadness.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with local members of the Muslim community about the aftermath of the tragedy. Joining the discussion were Dima Shabaneh, an intake referral counselor at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, and Faizan Syed, executive director of Missouri’s Council on American-Islamic Relations.

They recapped local events that have taken place in commemoration, including an interfaith vigil and a mental health talk at a local mosque focusing on how to cope with tragedy. 

“One of the beautiful things that comes out of these really terrible tragedies is how people of all faiths and backgrounds come together in order to show their support and solidarity with one another,” Syed said. He added that there has been an outpouring of support, including people leaving flowers and positive messages at local Islamic centers.

Shabaneh said her reaction to the shooting was not shock, due to the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric since 9/11, but sadness and anger.

She added that the attack brought her “a sense of responsibility,” especially during the times she works at a local Islamic school.

“If this was to happen at the mosque, I am now a protector of the children that I'm serving; I have to put my life on the line to make sure that they are safe,” she said.

Shabaneh reiterated the need for adults to open up conversation with kids in times of distraught in order to help them process their feelings.

“As I was brought up in, talking about feelings was never really a big thing. And you just keep you just keep internalizing and internalizing; then once you get older, you just don't know how to express,” she said. “[So] show your kids that you also were sad or you were angry and then teach them how to cope with it [because] kids do tend to follow in their parents footsteps.”

Growing security concerns

The ideology of white supremacy which fueled the attack on the Muslim worshippers is also a growing concern for various communities across the United States. Syed said security at places of worship has now become fundamental. 

“We as a community [need] to not only arm ourselves and defend ourselves, but we have to get to the root cause of that hatred [and] until we can get to the root cause that hatred, we're not going to be able to see the end of this type of violence happening in our communities around the world,” he added.

Listen to the full discussion: 

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Jon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.