After massacre at New Zealand mosques, Valley Muslims gather to pray, mourn

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- In the aftermath of the mosque shootings in the South Pacific island nation of New Zealand, worshippers came together at mosques across the Valley on Friday to grieve, and to comfort one another.

49 people died in the incident, which New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the shootings "one of New Zealand's darkest days". Authorities say most if not all were killed by an immigrant-hating white supremacist who has since appeared in court.

Friday afternoon is typically a time for people of the Islamic faith to gather and pray together. This Friday, however, was different. It was a solemn and sad occasion.

"It's a place where they expect to have serenity and peace, and they come disarmed figuratively and literally," said Omar Tawil with the Islamic Community Center of Tempe. "To be attacked in a place of worship is disgusting and unfortunate."

In Phoenix, some people noticed more security standing guard at mosques in the area. Imams say they have received a lot of support from the community, whether it's people dropping off flowers or calling to offer their condolences. At the Islamic Cultural Center of Tempe, worshippers arrived at Friday prayer to see uniformed officers and patrol cars. Leaders say they did not call police for help. Rather, Tempe Police reached out to them to show solidarity, and offer their services.

Tawil says Tempe Police Department requested their off-duty officers to help patrol local mosques, especially during Friday prayer.

"And we have a few squad cars creating a perimeter, and a few police officers on foot and bicycle," said Tawil.

The sermon on Friday was geared toward helping worshippers process the New Zealand massacre, which is being called a terror attack carried out by a white nationalist. The label seemed ironic to one local member of the Islamic faith, who says they are often considered to be terrorists.

"I want the world to know that Allah had nothing to do with that, and Islam is not something that's terrible," said Leon Maxwell.

Maxwell says he has experienced hate and oppression, and even violence because he is Muslim. Imams are calling on their congregations to not respond with fear or hate, but to be vigilant and inclusive instead.

"Things like this shouldn't happen in this world, and my heart goes out to all the people who have lost loved ones," said Maxwell. "It's really sad how people take this to a whole other level and lash out and want to harm you because of your belief."

Some mosque leaders are also looking into hiring private security to alleviate any fears worshippers may have of being harmed while at their sanctuary.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.