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'It didn't even happen to us, but we were witness. A piece of our shared identity was targeted that day in New Zealand.'

On March 15, 2019, the day began as any other.

I woke up grateful it was Friday. As I began to get ready for work, I started receiving distressing messages from loved ones. Had I seen the news? With trepidation, I went and did so.

What I saw happening in New Zealand was horrifying. As the day went on, it became clearer that what had occurred was an act of terrorism against a community of individuals who were in a space worshipping and in communion with not only their Creator but with their community.

After saying a prayer for the ones who passed, their families, and the communities in New Zealand, my thoughts turned to my national and local communities, my family members, and the greater Ummah. How were they experiencing this? How would they be impacted? How could we heal together?

As a mental health professional and researcher, I knew there would be much healing to come, because we have long known that we are all impacted by things that happen to others and that we are witness to.

When we have a shared identity with the direct recipient of the trauma, we are deeply impacted. For American Muslims, the New Zealand terror attacks were impactful not only because of the violence but also because of the specific targeting of their house of worship on a sacred day and during a communal prayer. As well, the impact of trauma builds with repeated exposure.

A year later, can we say that the way Muslims are being treated around the world has changed? No. In many ways, the violence has escalated.

Most recently, there have been numerous attacks at various mosques around the world. For Oregonian Muslims, events as recent as November 2019, in which a Muslim woman in Portland had her hijab ripped off, indicate a disregard for their humanity, autonomy and safety.

Muslims continue to be vicariously exposed to deeply harming and traumatic events What may come as a result of this vicarious exposure? One such concept is "vicarious trauma." As a mental health counselor, I saw firsthand the amount of emotional, spiritual and mental upheaval caused by this tragedy for Muslims here in Oregon.

Vicarious trauma has effects like post-traumatic stress disorder, including feeling less safe, feeling our loved ones are less safe, and feeling like the world is unjust. Increased anxiety, anger, hopelessness, and sadness are also normal responses. Essentially, this means our ability to live, love and laugh is impacted. Our ability to worship, to send our kids off to school, to find meaning in our work and to enjoy moments of joy are all diminished. And it didn't even happen to us, but we were witness. A piece of our shared identity was targeted that day in New Zealand.

For my Muslim sisters and brothers, please take care of yourselves. Anniversaries of traumatic events can re-stimulate all these feelings and outcomes. For individuals who are having a hard time coping with this anniversary, please engage in self-care such as grounding activities, or please reach out to loved ones or a mental health professional for support.

If you feel like you are in crisis, please contact your nearest county crisis line or 1-800-273-8255. Our greater community can support those in their workplaces, schools, and social circles by giving support and holding space.

May we all walk into a future in which we live, love and laugh with nothing holding us back.

Anjabeen Ashraf is a Beaverton resident.


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