The 150 protesters called for peace and tolerance in a city known as much for its diverse and eccentric residents as its institutions of higher learning.
"We want to protect all people, regardless of who they are or what their ethnic background is," said former Harvard student Eileen Dunne of Medford. "We think everyone should be welcome in Harvard Square."
The Muslim student, who was wearing a prayer cap, was returning to his dorm from the Islamic prayer room Tuesday night when he was attacked, police said. Two white men with shaved heads grabbed the student from behind as he walked along the rear of St. Paul's Church, police said. The men punched and kicked the victim, who was found minutes later by another student who called police.
"He was singled out because he was Muslim," said Jacqueline Landry, Catholic chaplain to Harvard students, who attended Sunday's vigil.
Landry said the assailants made a racial comment to him before the attack, but she didn't know the exact statement.
The Harvard senior received stitches for a cut on his head, Cambridge police spokesman Frank Pasquarello said Sunday night.
No arrests have been made.
Pasquarello said the incident is under investigation, adding authorities were unsure if it was a racial asault.
"There's no reason knowing that was the reason for the attack," Pasquarello said.
Andrew Tarsy, civil rights director of the Massachusetts Anti-Defamation League, said he did not know of any violent organized skinhead activity in Cambridge.
"If somebody was physically assaulted in the name of racial bigotry or religious bigotry, it's a hate crime," said Tarsy, who attended Sunday's vigil.
In 1998, the latest statistics available, there were 766 hate crimes reported in Massachusetts, according to the Governor's Task Force on Hate Crimes. In response to Tuesday's attack, Harvard police Sgt. Richard Mederos said the college issued an advisory last week informing students and staff of the incident.
"We're a little more vigilant because of the incidents that have been occurring," said Mederos, who said Cambridge police were handling the investigation.
Zayed Yasin, president of the Harvard Islamic Society, could not be reached for comment.
Before Sunday's march from Harvard Yard to the square, said the Rev. Irv Cummings, chairman of the United Ministry at Harvard, the vigil was organized in response to "a climate that encourages violence."
Protesters Sunday also pointed to another incident last week that some thought was a hate crime.
Two days before the student was attacked, three Harvard students were called fags" by a group of men walking on Mt. Auburn St. at about 2 a.m. on Sept. 17.
One of the Harvard students was hit on the head with a plastic recycling bin and required stitches, a witness said.
But Evan Feinberg, one of the three students, said it wasn't a hate crime. "They were not assaulting us for being gay. We're heterosexual. They were punks. They were drunk and angry," said Feinberg, 20.
Some of the men in the group had their heads shaved but others did not, Feinberg said.
Police said the incident does not appear to be related to Tuesday's attack. While many students said they genuinely feel safe, they wanted to send a message yesterday that they wouldn't stand for bigotry.
"It could have happened to me," said a 21-year-old black Harvard student who uses the same path near the church where the student was attacked.
"It's a real wake-up call in terms of racism and violence."
Gabriel Katsh, an 18-year-old Harvard student, called any incident of hate at Harvard "horrendous."