University of Michigan student organization Michigan Pakistanis held a vigil Thursday night to honor Zainab Ansari, an eight-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in Kasur, Pakistan last week. Around 25 students gathered on the Diag, which was adorned with candles in the shape of the Pakistani flag.

Ansari went missing Jan. 4 after leaving her home to attend Quranic studies. Police officials found her body five days later in a trash can. Her abuse and murder have set off protests and riots across Pakistan, calling for the government to take more action to prevent similar crimes like this.

LSA senior Muneeb Shaikh, president of Michigan Pakistanis, noted how Ansari’s murder is not a unique case in in Pakistan. She was the eighth child who was raped and murdered in Kasur this year.

“This is part of a larger problem plaguing Pakistan right now,” Shaikh said. “There have been multiple documents of incidences of rape and murder to young girls.”

The vigil began with Shaikh informing attendees of these recent events and reaffirming the purpose of the gathering: To honor Ansari’s life and mourn her loss. Public Policy senior Ibrahim Ijaz, a member of the executive board of Michigan Pakistanis, gave a speech voicing his sadness and highlighting the severity of the issue and need for action. He thanked the crowd for showing up to the vigil the despite the cold.

“It’s important to take time and space out of your day to think about what’s going on in the world,” Ijaz said.

Following Ijaz’s speech, attendees participated in a moment of silence to pray or reflect. LSA senior Martina Cholagh said she appreciated the moment for the sense of unity it created. 

“We all just prayed, or did whatever we thought necessary to honor this girl’s life,” Cholagh said. “We come from different backgrounds, different beliefs, but we were able to come together to honor this girl’s life and basically pray for her. I think that was really important.”

Cholagh noted one of the hopes of the vigil was to help people view the crime with more empathy and emotion, rather than simply reading about it in the news.

“I think vigils really help in bringing a face to the situation, acknowledging that this is a human being just like any other instead of having this senseless murder be another number in the media,” Cholagh said.

Ijaz’s final remarks emphasized the importance of every individual coming together to take action in preventing and seeking retribution for abuses like Ansari’s.

“We cannot just expect justice if we’re not harboring it or honing it in ourselves first,” Ijaz said. “We need to make sure that as members of any society that we’re in, whether we’re Pakistani Americans, whether we come from another country, whether we’re born in this one, we need to act with justice in everything that we do, every single day.”

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