Christchurch holds public call to prayer at site of mosque attack

Nationwide silence, Muslim call to prayer observed a week after 50 people were shot dead in mosque attacks.

Christchurch attack

Christchurch, New Zealand – A nationwide moment of silence was observed in New Zealand on Friday – ushered in by the Muslim call to prayer – a week after 50 people were killed and scores of others wounded in an attack on two mosques.

The prayer and two-minute reflection were broadcast live on national media outlets and came as an estimated 20,000 people, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, gathered metres from the Al Noor mosque in the city of Christchurch for Muslim Friday prayers.

Al Noor was one of the two places of worship targeted in the city during the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history, allegedly carried out by Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, along with the Linwood mosque.

Imam Gamal Fouda, prayer leader at the Al Noor mosque who was present during last week’s attack, told mourners in Christchurch he “saw hatred and rage in the eyes of the terrorist”.

“Today, from the same place, I look out and I see the love of and compassion in the eyes of thousands of fellow New Zealanders and human beings from across the globe,” Fouda said.

“We have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable, and the world can see in us an example of love and unity. We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken.”

A woman wearing a headscarf as tribute to the victims of the mosque attacks [Reuters]
A woman wearing a headscarf as tribute to the victims of the mosque attacks [Reuters]

Fouda called on New Zealand and governments “around the world” to “bring an end” to hate speech saying the attack on Friday was the result of “anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim rhetoric by some political leaders, some media agencies, and others”.

Tarrant appeared to publish an overtly white-supremacist online manifesto, which called for “violence” against immigrants, minutes before Friday’s attack

“Last week’s event is proof and evidence to the entire world that terrorism has no colour, has no race, and has no religion,” Fouda said.

The rise of white supremacy and right-wing extremism is a great global threat to mankind and this must end now.”

‘A special day’

Prior to Fouda’s speech and the Friday prayers, Ardern quoted the Prophet Muhammad during a brief address to the crowd.

“When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain,” said Ardern, wearing a black headscarf. “New Zealand mourns with you, we are one.”

Many of those who arrived to pray in Christchurch had travelled from all over New Zealand, home to about five million people, and elsewhere across the world.

Their shoes, lined up along low makeshift barriers in the open-air prayer areas, were too many to count.

According to local council estimates, as many as 5,000 Muslims attended the prayers, nearly a tenth of the country’s total Muslim population.

Participant Imran Khan, who arrived from Auckland on Friday morning with four friends, said it was important to be present as a “show of support” for his friend Ashraf Azad’s family. Azad was one of the 50 shot dead last week, in what Ardern has labelled a “terrorist” attack. 

“Whenever you look at the mosque you get the picture of what it must have been like for the people that were here at that moment [of the attack],” Khan told Al Jazeera, his voice trembling with emotion.

“[But] the support we are getting from other groups in society is unbelievable … It shows that religion is not everything, it’s the love and the unity that matters, people are standing up for that,” he added. 

Others, such as Christchurch local and regular Al Noor attendee Ahmed Osman, said the event proved that Friday’s gunman had failed to achieve his self-stated aim of sowing societal division.

“The thing has happened but we will always be together … From now on we are going to be more supportive of each other and more together; we are looking forward now,” Osman, whose uncle was among those killed on Friday, told Al Jazeera.

“Today is a special day for our hearts … The people of Christchurch will stand together,” he added.

New Zealanders in support

Thousands of non-Muslims attended the ceremony, forming a sea of silence behind the prayer areas while Muslims worshipped, close to a police cordon restricting access to the mosque.

Among them, many women of all backgrounds opted to wear headscarves in a show of solidarity with the Muslim community, which numbers no more than a few thousand locally and about 50,000 nationally. 

Christchurch resident Jeanine Benson said she had chosen to wear the garment as a “show of respect” to the city’s Muslims, adding it was important to “come together as one in New Zealand”. 

“I know everyone goes on about this [attack] isn’t New Zealand, but this shouldn’t happen anywhere,” Benson told Al Jazeera.

“I used to drive past this mosque [Al Noor] every single day going to work, and to think what happened there makes me feel physically ill,” she added.

“For everyone, this is not the end, this is just the start of a healing journey.”

Mosques set to reopen

The gathering came after another victim of the shootings, which also saw the nearby Linwood mosque attacked, was laid to rest earlier on Friday.

At least 26 more burials were expected to take place later in the afternoon, Christchurch Council said in a statement. 

Both the Linwood and Al Noor mosques are also expected to reopen on Saturday, a spokesperson for New Zealand Police told Al Jazeera.

“[Both] have been restored and will be handed over to the community,” the spokesperson said. “The community will communicate their plans for prayers going forward.”

A “March for Love” rally is also scheduled to take place in Christchurch on Saturday. Thousands of people are expected to attend.

Source: Al Jazeera