As Australia continues to grapple with a violent hostage-taker in Sydney who claims affiliation with the militant group ISIS, local Muslims and non-Muslims are working together to condemn the gunman as unrepresentative of the greater Australian Islamic community.
Sunday evening, a gunman calling himself “The Brother” stormed a Sydney cafe and took several hostages, beginning an ongoing siege with local law enforcement and making several demands — including that officials bring him the black flag of ISIS, an infamously violent jihadist group in Iraq and Syria also known as the Islamic State. Within hours of the incident, however, a coalition of 50 Muslim organizations quickly released a statement condemning the militant’s actions and urging their fellow Australians not to conflate the attack with all of Islam.
“We reject any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being, or to instill fear and terror into their hearts,” the letter read. “Any such despicable act only serves to play into the agendas of those who seek to destroy the goodwill of the people of Australia and to further damage, and ridicule the religion of Islam, and Australian Muslims throughout this country.”
“We remind everyone that the Arabic inscription on the black flag is not representative of a political statement, but reaffirms a testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals that represent no one but themselves,” the letter added.
The Grand Mufti of Australia and the Australian National Imams Council also strongly disavowed the hostage-taker, posting a joint statement on Facebook that read “[We] condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam.” In addition, other religious groups have gathered to decry the gunman and express solidarity with the Australian Muslim community. Faith leaders from Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions have convened joint prayer vigils at mosques across the country to pray for the hostages and call for peace.
“Do not allow the present moment to distract us from peace and good work,” Rev. Patrick McInerney, a Catholic priest who attended a vigil at the Lakemba mosque in New South Wales, said.
— Mohamed Taha (@Mo_Taha1) December 15, 2014
Meanwhile, non-Islamic Australians have taken to Twitter to voice their own compassionate response to the situation. Concerned that backlash from the hostage situation will result in Muslims feeling unsafe while riding public transportation tomorrow morning, Aussies began tweeting encouraging messages under the hashtag #illridewithyou, saying they were willing to accompany Australian Muslims on buses and trains. Within hours, #illridewithyou was trending worldwide.
— Matt Cargill (@mattcargill) December 15, 2014
A few of those tweets are below:
I'll ride with no matter what race, gender, age you are. I'll ride with you and treat you equally because we are all equal #illridewithyou
— pls calum :( (@cliffrdgmichael) December 15, 2014
This one from Jay Weatherill, Premier of South Australia:
We all have a role to play in creating a society that is welcoming of people from all nationalities and cultures. #illridewithyou
— JayWeatherill (@JayWeatherill) December 15, 2014
We all felt fear today. Let's not allow our Muslim brothers and sisters to have another reason to be afraid tomorrow #illridewithyou
— Jessica Tovey (@jessieliz) December 15, 2014
— Kristen Boschma (@Kristen_Boschma) December 15, 2014
— St Comrade Badhamus (@vanbadham) December 15, 2014
Aussie Muslims also tweeted messages of gratitude for the hashtag.
I was going to drive to work tomorrow but seeing the outpouring of support changed my mind. #illridewithyou Thank you. See you on the train!
— Ozge Sevindik (@OzgeSevindik) December 15, 2014
At press time, Sydney authorities are still locked in an ongoing siege with the gunman. He claims to have two bombs in the cafe, where he still holds many hostages.