Religious leaders and local officials gathered Thursday night in West Hempstead for an interfaith prayer service to deplore the violence in Lahore, Pakistan, where terrorists killed at least 74 people and injured 362 others in an Easter suicide bombing targeting Christians.
“There is no place for extremism in the world these days,” said Malik Abid, a Valley Stream resident who organized the candlelight vigil at the Graceville Seniors Club attended by about 30 people. “Let’s give peace a chance. Let’s have peaceful coexistence.”
Abid, a Muslim who is vice chair of the Nassau County Democratic Committee, said he helps lead the International Human Rights Commission, a nonprofit group with offices in Lebanon, Poland and Pakistan.
“Terrorists have no religion at all,” Raja Ali Ejaz, the consul general of Pakistan in New York, said. “Such incidents do not dampen our spirits to fight this scourge in society. In fact, on the contrary it rather strengthens our resolve to exterminate the scourge.”
Rabbi Joel Buchband of the Valley Stream Jewish Center said, “The Jewish people have suffered many many blows from terrorism in the past decades. Whenever we hear of people being cut down in such a cruel and inhumane fashion, our hearts go out to those people.”
He said he came to Thursday’s event to “renounce the whole idea that this [attack] somehow derives from religion. It has no relationship to any true religion.”
A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat ul Ahrar, has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had targeted Christians.
“We are saying they are not part of us,” the mainstream Muslim community, Abid said. “Very unfortunately we have some people who have kept hostage the rest of the community and the rest of the world. We don’t endorse them and we don’t support them. We want everyone to stand together and united to fight against this extremism.”
Shafiq Saddiqui, a native of Lahore, said he believes the terrorists launched the attack because Christians and Muslims were gathering together peacefully.
“Extremists don’t want these things to be happening between Christians,” said Saddiqui, 55, a businessman who lives in Brooklyn.
Starting Wednesday evening, police in Lahore carried out a series of raids and arrested 17 people they said were connected to the bombing in a park.
Christians make up 2 percent of Pakistan’s population, and tensions are high between them and a hard-line Muslim core that wants to see a strict interpretation of Islamic law take precedence in Pakistan’s secular legal system.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif canceled a planned visit to the United States after the attack, telling his nation in a televised address Monday that his government would not allow terrorists to “play with Pakistani lives.”
“We are keeping count of every drop of the blood of our martyrs,” he said. “We will not rest until the cost of this blood is avenged.”