Saturday, 20 Apr 2024

Mourners Honor the Dead With Call to Prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — One week after a terrorist attack that killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, mourners who came from around the world honored the dead Friday by sharing the Muslim call to prayer and two minutes of silence.

In a park across from Al Noor Mosque, where 42 worshipers were killed, traditional Friday Prayer became a communal event, drawing together Muslims from afar, relatives of the dead and New Zealanders in headscarves experiencing an Islamic service for the first time.

“This terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology that has torn the world apart — but instead we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable,” Imam Gamal Fouda of Al Noor Mosque said, drawing applause from those gathered.

“Islamophobia kills,” he said later, adding: “The rise of white supremacy and right-wing extremism is a great global threat to mankind and this must end now.”

His comments, mixing appreciation with broader warnings about hate and fear, came on a day when Christchurch buried at least 26 of the victims killed in the terrorist attack.

With a few exceptions, the process of releasing bodies to families was finally coming to a close seven days after the massacre, prompting waves of sadness, relief and reflection.

[Read more about the victims of the attack, who spanned generations and nationalities, and their families’ struggle for closure.]

The mood at the park — between the mosque’s golden dome and Christchurch Hospital, where 27 of the 42 people wounded in the attack remained under care — was solemn and cautious.

“People are very sad and very weary and sometimes frightened,” said Rachael Larkin, 56, an environmental scientist from Christchurch who attended Friday’s prayer service. “But we’re also very proud.”

The past few days have included a flood of proposed solutions to the violence, along with challenges.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unveiled a ban on military-style semiautomatic weapons and the ammunition and parts that were used in the shootings — an overhaul of gun laws that she hopes to have fully in place by April 11.

Her quick action is a source of pride for many New Zealanders. Within the first few hours of the prime minister’s announcement, more than 300 gun owners filled out forms to turn in weapons that were the targets of the ban.

Ms. Ardern also pledged this week to work with other countries on holding social media companies accountable for letting hateful speech thrive on their platforms.

Funerals, which were few and far between for most of the week as families pressed officials for the bodies of their loves ones, suddenly were being conducted with heartbreaking efficiency.

At Linwood Cemetery, where 50 graves waited to be filled near a large eucalyptus tree, imams told a crowd of thousands to make room for family members who moved ahead slowly in groups every few minutes to pray and then carry their dead.

“We did not expect this,” one of the imams leading the service said, “but it is not we who decide — it is Allah.”

The first person buried Friday was Naeem Rashid, who tried to tackle the gunman in Al Noor before being shot and killed. Relatives from Pakistan and Christchurch moved in unison as they carried his body above their shoulders.

He was followed by 27 more, including the 3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim, the youngest killed in the shooting, and Atta Elayyan, 33, a New Zealand futsal player who ran an app development company.

With each procession, the mourning family spoke the Janazah funeral prayer inside a white tent, then moved on to make room for the next group of grieving relatives.

“We will call all the families, and all the families will get a chance to stand with their loved ones,” said Sheikh Mohammad Amir, the chairman of the religious advisory board of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand.

Near the edge of the cemetery, photographers and camera crews from around the world captured the series of final goodbyes. The day before, six people had been buried.

“There are some people who wanted to get it over with quickly,” said Mustafa Farouk, the federation’s president. “There were some others thinking ‘This doesn’t just affect us, it affects the whole world — and maybe there should be some light from this darkness.’”

Finding hope but also resolve seemed to be the focus at the prayer service. Imam Fouda began with a direct reference to his own experience with the suspected gunman, Brenton H. Tarrant.

“Last Friday, I stood in this mosque and saw hatred and rage in the eyes of the terrorist who killed and martyred 50 innocent people, wounded 42 and broke the hearts of millions around the world,” he said.

“Today,” he continued, “from the same place, I look out and I see the love and compassion in the eyes of thousands of fellow New Zealanders and human beings from across the globe, that fills the hearts of millions more who are not with us physically but in spirit.”

He thanked the emergency medical workers and all who attended, calling them his “Muslim and non-Muslim brothers.”

But he also said the attacks “did not come overnight.”

“It was the result of the anti-Muslim rhetoric of some political leaders, media agencies and others,” he said.

He added: “Last week’s event is proof and evidence to the entire world that terrorism has no color, has no race, and has no religion.”

Ms. Ardern, in her own short speech, echoed those thoughts and those of many others who were sitting silently in the grass.

“New Zealand mourns with you,” she said. “We are one.”

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