New Zealand falls silent for Christchurch attack victims
‘We are broken-hearted but we are not broken,’ says Al Noor mosque imam
People gather at the Ponsonby Masjid Mosque during an open service to all religions on March 22nd, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images
People across New Zealand observed the Muslim call to prayer on Friday as the nation reflected on the moment one week ago when 50 people were killed at two mosques.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and thousands of others congregated in Hagley Park opposite the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch to observe the call to prayer at 1.30pm local time.
“New Zealand mourns with you. We are one,” Ms Ardern said.
Thousands more were listening in on the radio or watching on television as the event was broadcast live. The prayer was followed by two minutes of silence.
Officials laid out a large area of light brown carpeting where hundreds of Muslim men sat in socks or bare feet readying for the prayer.
One man in the front row was in a Christchurch Hospital wheelchair.
The Al Noor mosque’s imam, Gamal Fouda, thanked New Zealanders for their support.
“This terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology . . . But, instead, we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable,” the imam said.
“We are broken-hearted but we are not broken. We are alive. We are together. We are determined to not let anyone divide us,” he said, as the crowd erupted with applause.
Later in the day, a mass funeral was held to bury 26 of the victims at a cemetery where more than a dozen already have been laid to rest.
Friday’s burials included the youngest victim, three-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim.
Fahim Imam (33) of Auckland, returned to the city for Friday’s service. He was born and grew up in Christchurch but moved away three years ago.
“It’s just amazing to see how the country and the community have come together - blows my mind, actually,” Mr Imam said before the event.
“As soon as I got off the plane, I saw a sign someone was holding that said ‘jenaza’, denoting Muslim funeral prayer. Others were offering free rides to and from the prayer service,” Mr Imam said.
“The moment I landed in Christchurch, I could feel the love here. I’ve never felt more proud to be a Muslim, or a Kiwi for that matter. It makes me really happy to be able to say that I’m a New Zealander,” he said.
He called it surreal to see the mosque where he used to pray surrounded by flowers.
The observance comes the day after the government announced a ban on “military-style” semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines like the weapons that were used in last Friday’s attacks.
At least 42 people died at the Al Noor mosque and at least seven others at the nearby Linwood mosque.
An immediate sales ban went into effect on Thursday to prevent stockpiling, and new laws would be rushed through Parliament that would impose a complete ban on the weapons, Ms Ardern said.
“Every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned,” Ms Ardern said.
The gun legislation is supported not only by Ms Ardern’s liberal Labour Party but also the conservative opposition National Party, so it is expected to pass into law. New Zealand does not have a constitutional right to bear arms.
Among those planning to attend Friday’s observance was Samier Dandan, the president of the Lebanese Muslim Association in Sydney and part of a 15-strong delegation of Muslim leaders that had flown to Christchurch.
“It was an ugly act of terrorism that occurred in a beautiful, peaceful city,” Mr Dandan said.
He said his pain could not compare with that of the families he’d been visiting who had lost loved ones. He was inspired by their resilience, he said.
“And I’ve got to give all my respect to the New Zealand prime minister, with her position and her actions, and it speaks loud,” he said.
Ismat Fatimah (46) said it was sad to look at the Al Noor mosque, which was still surrounded by construction barricades, armed police officers and a huge mound of flowers and messages.
“We’re feeling stronger than before, and we are one,” she said.–AP