Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 July 2019

New Zealand Muslim community rallies for Ramadan in wake of Christchurch attack

Christchurch is still 'home, sweet home,' says recovering survivor Adeeb Sami

An armed police officer stands guard outside the Al Noor mosque during Friday prayers in Christchurchn New Zealand, on May 3, 2019. AFP
An armed police officer stands guard outside the Al Noor mosque during Friday prayers in Christchurchn New Zealand, on May 3, 2019. AFP

The walls of Al Noor Mosque are freshly plastered and new carpet has been laid. Gone are the bloodstains and bullet holes from a March 15 shooting rampage, in which a gunman murdered 51 worshippers at this mosque and another nearby in a southern New Zealand city previously more famous for its gardens than far-right terrorism.

As the country’s Muslim community prepares to celebrate Ramadan, the emotional damage from New Zealand’s worst mass shooting remains as fresh as the paint at this Christchurch mosque. But evening prayers will be held as usual, although under heightened police security, mosque spokesman Tony Green told The National on Monday.

“We can’t pretend that this Ramadan will be like any other,” he said, referring to the trauma suffered by those who survived the massacres and those who lost family members and friends. “There is enormous grief.”

But observing the holy month offers an opportunity for the community to come together and heal, he said, and could help restore a “sense of order” to people’s lives.

Muslims make up about 1 per cent of New Zealand’s 4.8 million population. The community includes indigenous Maori, converts, descendants of 19th and 20th Century migrant populations, and recent immigrants and refugees.

The accused perpetrator of the twin-mosque attacks, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist, aimed to undermine the position of Muslims in the New Zealand society. And for many Muslims, their “sense of security in New Zealand has been shattered,” Mr Green said. “Healing takes time. A sense of security takes time.”

In recent weeks, survivors have been returning to the mosque. “You see people on crutches, in arm slings, in wheelchairs,” Mr Green said.

Despite the attacks, New Zealand remains home, said survivor Adeeb Sami.

He spent 19 days in hospital after being shot in the back and shoulder during the attack at Al Noor Mosque. A New Zealand citizen of Iraqi descent, Mr Sami, 52, works between New Zealand and the UAE, where he is a director for the American multinational engineering company Aecom.

With his wounds still healing, he has received medical clearance to fast during Ramadan.

New Zealand police are doing everything they can to protect the country’s Muslim population, he said, but authorities have not always communicated effectively.

“They do not tell us what is going on, which creates unease. Police should give us information so that we feel more secure,” he said, referring to two separate incidents in Christchurch, in which police apprehended two men on firearms and explosives charges in the weeks following the attacks.

One of the men, Ukrainian born Troy Dubovskiy, committed suicide in his vehicle during a police siege. Police said at the time they were investigating Dubovskiy for a possible link with the man charged with the March 15 mosque attacks.

Regardless of what happened, Mr Sami said Christchurch is “home, sweet home” to his family.

Much of New Zealand society has actively repudiated the ideology of the shooting gunman by offering support to the Muslim community. Three different fundraising groups have raised nearly NZ$20 million (Dh48.6 m) for victims and their families.

The director for the Muslim World League in Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific, Mushabab Aiban, said many people had visited Al Noor mosque to pay their respect to victims in recent weeks, with some expressing an interest in converting to Islam.

He had faith the attacks of March 15 would be “a one-off”.

Police said armed police officers would continue to be stationed outside mosques and other places of worship across the country.

Updated: May 6, 2019 04:13 PM

SHARE

SHARE