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Gathering sends message of love, unity to Muslims

TOM HINDMAN | Gazette-Mail
Coffee and water were brought to those sitting at the Islamic Center of West Virginia.
TOM HINDMAN | Gazette-Mail
Rabbi Victor Urecki was one of several speakers at the Islamic Center of West Virginia.

Hadeel Boawrshi heard bombs from her apartment at night.

But it wasn’t until her husband was kidnapped and murdered, his body left on the side of the road, that she fled to America three years ago.

“I had to leave my country because my life and my children’s lives were in danger,” Boawrshi, a Syrian refugee, said.

And it wasn’t until last year that she was able to have all three of her children join her here.

Ibtesam Barazi had Boawrshi tell this story at the Islamic Center of West Virginia in South Charleston for a reason.

“I want you to actually see the face of a refugee,” Barazi said.

On a day when Donald Trump, the presidential candidate leading most polls in the Republican primary, declared that the U.S. should stop accepting Muslim immigrants, in the week that President Barack Obama urged people not to fear the Muslim community, in a year where extremist terrorist attacks throughout the globe have given rise to a misinformed fear of the Islamic faith in America, the Islamic Center was standing room only Monday night with people gathered to hear Boawrshi’s story and send a message of love and unity to their Muslim neighbors.

Boawrshi wasn’t alone. She was joined by Jude Sabbagh, a ninth grader who shared the story of her father, a doctor, who was imprisoned for treating people who were injured in the Syrian revolution, and leaders of various denominations who came with a message of love and acceptance.

“Love is the only answer,” said Marquita Hutchens, from St. John’s Methodist Church. “Love is the only healing factor that is going to overcome hatred.”

Two rabbis in attendance, Rabbi Victor Urecki and Rabbi Jim Cohn, talked about how a fear of refugees is too familiar in America and throughout the world.

“The Jews, we were told, were a threat to the American way of life,” Urecki said, adding that people thought Jewish immigrants were going to overthrow the government and take jobs from Americans.

Annette Zavareei, who was in the audience, at the event sponsored by Women for Peace and Understanding and the Islamic Association of West Virginia, brought refugee families from Bosnia to West Virginia in 1995. She said that while some people may fear refugees, the unity that was displayed at the Islamic Center was similar to the acceptance she saw when those families first joined the community.

“That’s the way people in West Virginia are,” Zavareei, who was wearing a pin that said “peace” in three languages, said.

Many of the speakers talked about how Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all connected and how the religions must stick together and support each other.

“We must stand together, hand in hand, in this time of bigotry, misinformation and hate,” Barazi said.

Overall, the night was about togetherness. It was about a being in the same room with people, finding common ground and accepting each other’s differences with open arms.

“This is an opportunity to connect person to person, family to family,” Cohn said. “And that’s a good thing,”

To close the event, Sky Kershner, the executive director of the Kanawha Pastoral Counseling Center, had everyone in the audience hold hands for a moment of reflection and prayer.

“We are all here together in this safe moment,” Kershner said. “And if you feel a sense of gratitude in your heart, don’t be afraid to show it.”

And with each hug that was shared between strangers following the moment of reflection, they did.

Reach Daniel Desrochers

at, 304-348-4886 or follow

@drdesrochers on Twitter.

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