Christchurch holds public call to prayer at site of mosque attack
Rememberance ceremonies and public vigils were set to take place across the Pacific nation on Friday [Hassan Ghani/Al Jazeera]
Christchurch, New Zealand – Thousands of people gathered in Christchurch for the Muslim call to prayer and two minutes of silence on Friday, a week after 50 people were killed and scores of others wounded in an attack on two mosques in the city.
Attendees met at Christchurch’s central Hagley Park in New Zealand and observed a nationwide silence, called for by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, after the call to prayer was broadcast on national television and radio stations.
Ardern, who was present at the ceremony held less than 500 metres away from the Al Noor mosque, where 42 people were shot down on Friday, 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 headscarf. “New Zealand mourns with you, we are one.”
Rememberence ceremonies and public vigils were set to take place across the Pacific nation on Friday.
Imam Gamal Fouda, the prayer leader at the Al Noor mosque who was present during last week’s attack, told mourners 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 special day’
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.
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 massacred 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.
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“[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 – alleged to be Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, 28 – 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 cousin 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 the Friday prayers took place, 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.
A “March for Love” rally is scheduled to take place in Christchurch on Saturday. Thousands of people are expected to attend.
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.”