Members of the Columbia community congregated on Low Steps Wednesday evening to hold a candlelight vigil commemorating the lives of over 300 victims who died in a terror attack in Egypt this past weekend—the country’s deadliest ever.
The attack took place at a mosque in the Sinai Peninsula, an area overrun by militant extremism in recent years. Insurgents detonated a bomb and shot at crowds of Sufi Muslims, whose style of worship is criticized by Sunni extremists and the Islamic State.
The vigil was held by the Office of University Chaplain, the Office of University Life, the International Students and Scholars Office, and the Columbia Muslim Student Association. Nearly 40 people came out to celebrate the lives of those who died and to speak out against intolerance.
Administrators were a strong presence at the event, which featured several two-minute speeches from both students and staff. School of the Arts’ Dean of Student and Alumni Affairs Laila Maher gave an emotional statement, drawing on her deep family ties to Egypt. She reaffirmed the importance of group gatherings as a means of combating terrorism.
“The best thing we can do is have events like this, to be together, to have hope. We need to continue to have hope,” Maher said.
An important theme throughout the night was standing together in the face of discrimination. The persecution of the Coptic Christians, an often-victimized sect in Egypt, was brought up by several people, including Maher, who is herself a Copt.
Following Maher’s speech, the conversation centered largely around acknowledging the horror of the attacks and extending prayers toward the victims, their families, and impacted members of the Columbia community.
“We will always be there for whoever needs help and support,” President of Turath, Columbia’s Arab students association, Mallak Al Husban, BC ’19, said.
Throughout the evening, students were welcomed and handed candles as Quran verses, poetry readings, and speeches were delivered to the crowd. After a half hour, the vigil concluded quietly. Students hugged and wept openly, supporting one another for several minutes after the candles had been extinguished.
Associate Provost of the International Students and Scholars Office David Austell was the final adminstrator to speak, closing his remarks with a reminder to continue the conversation.
“This gathering represents the efficacy of us being able to talk to each other. In this way we bring peace, even if it’s only a tiny bit,” he said.