Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Cultural understanding key to spreading tolerance, says Imam of attacked Christchurch mosque

Gamal Fouda, Imam of Al Noor Mosque, joins panel at World Tolerance Summit in Dubai

Sheikh Gamal Fouda, Imam of Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, takes part in a panel discission on Instilling Communal Peace and Harmony within Societies, at the World Tolerance Summit in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Sheikh Gamal Fouda, Imam of Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, takes part in a panel discission on Instilling Communal Peace and Harmony within Societies, at the World Tolerance Summit in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Open communication is needed to undo the damage of stereotyping against Islam in the West, according to the Imam of mosque in New Zealand where dozens of Muslims were killed in a terror attack this year.

At the World Tolerance Summit in Dubai on Thursday, Sheikh Gamal Fouda, Imam of Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, said immigrating to New Zealand showed him how hard it can be to adapt to other cultures and communicate effectively with them.

“I am often asked why the West views Islam as the religion of violence and extremism,” said Mr Fouda.

“There is often a barrier of language, sometimes the people who are introducing Islam to others just don’t have the right language to explain what it is.”

On March 15, a 28-year-old white supremacist opened fire on worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, killing more than 50 people.

Mr Fouda said attack was the work of “a man full of hatred who had been brainwashed by an irresponsible media”.

If the West was to fully understand the meaning of Islam it was important the right message was used, he said.

“Many Islamic books say jihad is a holy war, this is totally incorrect. All wars are unholy according to Islam.”

Mr Fouda moved to New Zealand from Egypt in 2003.

“It was really difficult for me at the start.

“I saw first-hand how those who are introducing Islam to others need to understand and be able to communicate in the culture they are in.

“They need to know the right approach to use.”

He said he would never forget the horrific attacks that left at least 50 dead and more than 40 injured eight months ago.

“It was a horrific thing I had to watch with my own eyes.”

But he praised the united front shown by the Muslim community in New Zealand and the country’s leadership in response to the atrocity.

“They stood up and said ‘we love our country and are not going to let hate divide us, love will redeem us.'

“Some political leaders affiliate themselves with the extremist groups who believe that hate will win.

“But [Jacinda Ardern] the Prime Minister of New Zealand stood up and said ‘we are one, we mourn together’.”

Mr Fouda said his experiences working with Catholic community leaders in New Zealand had shown him how much Islam had in common with other religions.

“I listened to what there were saying and realised it was exactly what we were saying in Islam.

“Religion can bring peace but you have to select the correct representatives to educate people.”

Updated: November 14, 2019 08:25 PM

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