MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Muslims came to the Memphis Islamic Center for their day of prayer with heavy hearts and were greeted and supported by surprise visits from people in the Memphis community.
Hundreds of Muslims gathered inside the Memphis Islamic Center for Friday prayer, the day Muslims around the world come to Mosques for worship.
"That mosque could have been any mosque in the world, that could have been our mosque in Memphis," said Yasir Qadhi from Shaykh Memphis Islamic Center.
This Friday, extra security was on hand, including Shelby County Sheriff deputies after the devastating massacre targeting Muslims in New Zealand.
But the message was about love, not hate.
"Such violence, such fear, such intimidation, it needs to be responded to with love and education," Qadhi said.
As the worshipers walked inside, they were greeted with a familiar face – former Reverend Steve Stone of nearby Heartsong Church came to welcome many with hugs and words of support.
"I just wanted to be here to be a safe presence and to welcome people and to stand with them," Rev. Stone said.
After the ceremony, Rev. Stone and his wife gifted the Islamic Center a tree that will be planted on site to remember the victims in New Zealand.
"That's the type of love, that's the type of relationship and spirit that we want to demonstrate not just to Memphis but to the entire world," Qadhi said.
Another sign of support, a man from New Zealand who now lives in Memphis, came by as well.
"I just felt compelled to come down and give my condolences to the Muslim community here," Tony Faulds said.
Qadhi said all it takes to eradicate hate is understand, and he is leaving an open invitation for those to come learn.
"Do not give in to these voices of hate, if you are worried or you have misunderstanding or a stereotype of some other community, go visit them," Qadhi said. "Our mosques are open. Go and come and speak with us, we are just like you we are a part of you."