A man who survived New Zealand‘s mosque attacks told a crowd of about 20,000 that he forgave the gunman who killed his wife and 49 other people.
Farid Ahmed was speaking at a national remembrance service held on Friday in Christchurch to commemorate those who died in the attacks two weeks ago.
It was the third major memorial held in the city since the attacks and a more formal occasion, with dozens of dignitaries from other countries attending, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The memorial featured musical guest Yusuf Islam, also known as Cat Stevens, who performed his song Peace Train.
Thousands stood in silence in Christchurch as the names of 50 people shot dead in two mosques were read, with speakers calling for the legacy of the tragedy to be a kinder, more tolerant New Zealand.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who wore a Maori cloak during the service, said the world had to end the vicious cycle of “extremism”.
“Our challenge now is to make the very best of us a daily reality, because we are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear. We never have been,” said Ardern at service in Hagley Park, near the Al Noor mosque where more than 40 of the victims were killed by a white supremacist during Friday prayers on March 15.
“The answer to them lies in a simple concept that is not bound by domestic borders, that isn’t based on ethnicity, power-base or even forms of governance. The answer lies in our humanity,” she said.
Security was tight around the service and New Zealand remains on high-security alert. Police Commissioner Mike Bush said it was one of the largest security events ever conducted by the police in New Zealand.
‘A heart full of love’
Ahmed, whose wife Husna was one of the 50 killed, told the crowd as a man of faith he had forgiven his wife’s killer because he did not want to have “a heart that is boiling like a volcano”.
“I want a heart that will be full of love and care and full of mercy and will forgive easily, because this heart doesn’t want any more lives to be lost,” he said to applause.
He called for people to work together for peace and to change attitudes to see everyone as part of one family, using Christchurch’s nickname of the Garden City to make his point.
“I may be from one culture, you may come from another culture, I may have one faith, you may have one faith, but together we are a beautiful garden,” Ahmed said.
Kelly Smith, 52, from Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, said she found Ahmed’s speech beautiful.
“I loved what he said: we‘re all different flowers, but we all look pretty together and that‘s so true,” she said.
Mohamed Mohideen, president of the Islamic Council of Victoria in Australia, said Ardern’s response to the attack helped provide comfort and thanked her for her support of the Muslim community.
‘Weaponised’ social media
The massacre in Christchurch was carried out by a lone gunman who live streamed the rampage on Facebook. Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with one count of murder and is likely to face more charges when he reappears in court next Friday.
“There are the laws we need now, to ensure that social media is not weaponised,” Morrison told reporters after the service.
The memorial was broadcast throughout New Zealand.
Muslim volunteers, some of whom had travelled from Australia and Asia, handed out pamphlets with information about Islam as crowds left the park after the service.