Five mosques in Auckland will throw open their doors this Friday, in a bid to demystify the Muslim community in the eyes of their fellow New Zealanders. Alex Braae reports.
“Join us, we’re no different. We’re all the same. We’re trying to better our lives. We’re trying to raise our families. Come and talk to us.”
So says Ikhlaq Kashkari, the President of the NZ Muslim Association, on why four Auckland mosques are opening their doors to the public this Friday. It follows in the wake of both the deadly terrorist attacks in Christchurch, and the outpouring of aroha for the Muslim community since.
Since the attacks, mosques around the country have been inundated with flowers and messages of support. Vigils to mourn have attracted crowds of thousands, and Givealittle pages have raised millions of dollars to assist the families of those killed.
From 5.00 to 8.00pm, events will be held Ponsonby Masjid, Ranui Mosque, North Shore Islamic Centre and Masjid Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq in Pakuranga (update: the Imam Reza Mosque in New Lynn is also opening its doors on Friday night). The aim is to allow the community to come inside, connect with and grieve alongside the Muslim community. Prayers will be performed as well.
People who want to attend are asked to dress modestly, though there will be no requirement for women to wear headscarves. Shoes should also be removed before entering a mosque, akin to a marae. There are as yet no indications how many people will show up, but the Ponsonby Masjid event will be held outside so that it can spill over on to the street if numbers grow too large.
Mayor Phil Goff will be attending the events at Ponsonby Masjid and Ranui Mosque.
Mr Kashkari said he and the Muslim community had been overwhelmed to see the solidarity and support that had come from the rest of New Zealand, and said it was the start of showing global leadership as to how to prevent future attacks.
“It’s not the best reason to get together, but we need to find better ways and reasons to get together and have that conversation. Because a lot of things come from ignorance, and people making assumptions that are wrong.”
Mr Kashkari also had a strong message to deliver on how the discourse around Islam has typically taken place, and what he wants to see people focus on around Islam in the future.
“People on these fringe elements – it doesn’t matter what side of the line they’re on, they’ve been getting a lot of air, and interest from media. And I think it’s really important that you as responsible media evaluate that. We need to work really hard to promote the messages of the vast, silent majority of people, who all just want to get on with their lives, bring their families up, and do their best for their communities and countries.”
“You as the media have a big responsibility. And I’d rather see more positive reporting, rather than give a platform for these people who create hate in our communities in society. So spread the message of love and compassion.”
He supported the idea of making the man accused of carrying out the attack nameless.
As to other suggestions that have been made on social media, such as standing guard outside mosques or wearing headscarves out of solidarity, Mr Kashkari said he took that in the spirit of love being shown, and said the majority of people in the community would appreciate it, though he didn’t formally endorse either action.
The open evenings are at this stage only scheduled for Auckland, with the community’s focus in Christchurch confined to the task of holding funerals, and rallying around families who have lost loved ones.