‘Rise up and create miracles’: Speakers at prayer vigil for Afghan refugees share how we can help

Local Afghans share fears for family members who are still in the war-torn country.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Husna Niadi gathers at Murray Park along with other people from Afghanistan, for a prayer vigil in honor of Utah’s Afghan refugees, sponsored by several local organizations, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021.

Murray • Arya Mustafawi, 9, has a message for Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox: “I want to bring my cousins back from Afghanistan to America to get them away from the Taliban.”

She also wants all children to have the same education she’s received and said it “makes my heart hurt whenever I hear the news from [Afghanistan].”

Arya’s older cousin, Shubaira Aminzada, said cousins, aunts and uncles aren’t the only family members she worries about. There’s also her sister-in-law, who’s 32 weeks pregnant.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shubaiyra Aminzada talks about her relatives in Afghanistan, as she gathers at Murray Park for a prayer vigil in honor of UtahÕs Afghan refugees, onSaturday, Aug. 21, 2021.

Aminzada said her brother is currently in India, trying to reach his wife in Afghanistan.

“Hopefully he gets there,” she said, “and hopefully he doesn’t get killed on the way.”

This isn’t her family’s first time experiencing deep fear and uncertainty. Despite fleeing to Pakistan, her father was murdered in 1998 just a month before she was born, Aminzada said. Her family came to the U.S. in 2000.

“The ironic thing is to think that we ran away from all that persecution,” Aminzada said, " ... but 20 years later, the same exact thing is happening with my brother.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shubaira Aminzada talks about her relatives in Afghanistan, as she gathers at Murray Park for a prayer vigil in honor of UtahÕs Afghan refugees, on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021.

Arya and Aminzada both participated in an Aug. 21 prayer vigil for the area’s Afghan refugee community.

The event came almost a week after Taliban forces swept into Kabul, the Afghan capital, and took the presidential palace.

The vigil, held at Murray Park, was organized by the women’s faith group Big Ocean Women, the humanitarian organization Roots of Peace, and the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.

About 150 people turned out to support the Afghan community.

Prayers were offered by people of Christian, Jewish, Native American and Polynesian backgrounds. Several teens sang musical numbers, and area Afghans spoke to the crowd about the difficulties facing their community.

Big Ocean Women founder Carolina Sagebin Allen also addressed the attendees, saying there’s nothing more powerful than people of different backgrounds gathering to pray.

“Whenever you petition a higher power, that energy that grows from your heart for goodwill, it transcends above everything else,” she said. “Together, our collective tears, our collective pain, our collective goodwill can rise up and create miracles.”

In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Allen said she and other local leaders held the vigil because they wanted to do something for the Afghan community.

People need to come together and show solidarity with Afghanistan’s people at this time, she said. “We’re all friends. We’re all neighbors. We’re in this together.”

Helping Afghan refugees

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Afghans gather at Murray Park for a prayer vigil in honor of UtahÕs Afghan refugees, onSaturday, Aug. 21, 2021.

When it was her turn at the microphone, Aminzada told vigil participants that it’s important not to pity refugees. They have the same dreams as those who are blessed with opportunities, she said, and it’s the duty of those who have enough to help others.

She also wants people to humanize refugees, Aminzada said.

“[The Afghan people] are not people who are less than us,” she said. “They have just been given an unfortunate situation that we are not in right now.”

Community member Melissa Inouye later shared three types of action that Utahns can take to help Afghan refugees: political, communal and cultural.

First, political action means contacting elected officials, Inouye said. For instance, a person could write to the White House and demand that the U.S. work for the preservation of life and safety in Afghanistan, she said, or they could tell politicians to find ways to issue and process visas.

Second, Inouye said, community action means volunteering or donating. This could look like cleaning up housing for new refugee families, offering tax preparation or other skills, or simply donating needed items to humanitarian organizations. Utah’s International Rescue Committee, for instance, lists volunteer opportunities at bit.ly/3sJR1WH, while their donation lists are available at bit.ly/3j8aLA6.

Finally, Inouye said, cultural action means making Utah a safe place for people of all religions, races and ethnic backgrounds.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Muhammad-Ali Mustafawi and Aiza Mustafawi gather at Murray Park for a prayer vigil in honor of UtahÕs Afghan refugees, onSaturday, Aug. 21, 2021.

Community members could start learning new languages or expand their social circles to include diverse people, she said.

“Let’s put works behind our faith,” Inouye said.

The vigil ended with a minute of silence in honor of the Afghan people.

In an interview, community member Ghazanfar Ali said he attended the vigil to show solidarity with his Afghan friends.

Utahns can help local Afghans by being good friends and neighbors, he said.

“The least they can do is reach out to the Afghans in their neighborhood,” Ali said. “Talk to them, share with them ... ask them about their families. Ask them if they need anything.”

Abdul Wahab, who came to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 2014, added that he wants senators and House members to fight for the Afghan people.

He also hopes the community will take action.

“It’s not enough to say, ‘Sorry,’” Wahab said. “[People] can do something.”