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SocietyMarch 15, 2020

One year on: Messages from the Christchurch mosques

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In recent weeks, Christchurch-based Muslims have contributed to the One Year On project, telling their stories in their own words. Here we share a selection.


Siham Alsalfiti: ‘Love makes you happy, hatred burns you‘

We were hurt, badly hurt. It’s still incomprehensible, it’s still very difficult that we lost Abdul who was a caring dad, a loving husband and a true, genuine friend with his laughs and jokes. He was a person who loved his job, loved being an IT specialist, a translator and a farmer. He loved the land, loved working on the farm, loved his animals and the peaceful life that we used to live.

We need to learn that hatred does not take us anywhere. Hatred burns everything, burns dreams, burns the people who are directly affected and those who are indirectly affected. I think if we all work on ourselves and continue stepping outside our comfort zone, accepting others and understanding others. It’s not just in New Zealand it’s in the whole world. In this case we will have a better future not only in New Zealand but in the whole world.

Last year was a shock and it was very difficult, it’s unprecedented in New Zealand and it has changed our lives forever. March 15 and the loss of one part of us, and the loss of other people, the fear that we went through made us actually numb. We were numb last year.

We couldn’t have done it without the support of our lovely friends, the neighbours, the Kiwis that we knew and those that we did not know. They gave us hope, they gave us strength, they made us feel like we were not alone. Last year gave us a lesson that although this guy wanted to divide us, we actually came together.

Our neighbours from day one showed us the support and care and looked after the farm, made sure we were okay, stayed with us and supported us. That made a difference to our lives, we couldn’t have done it without them.

What happened made us understand that there is a hidden hatred of a culture or a minority, yet at the same time there is big love, there is support, there’s the majority that showed love, that they care, that we are one and we are all human beings. Under our skin, we all have the same things.

Yes, there is hatred, but there is also love, there’s care, there’s people who are compassionate, people who are understanding, people who aren’t afraid to step outside their comfort zones and come closer.

The message that I feel we need to seed and water is that we are all humans, we need to work on ourselves – everyone needs to work on themselves. This world is not just for X or Y person, it’s for everyone. New Zealand is for everyone.

We need to love each other, get outside our comfort zones, and allow ourselves to love and support each other.

We’re all human beings, we all do the same things we all go to sleep, wake up and eat, but what we need to work on is love. Love makes you happy, hatred burns you.

Siham Alsalfiti is an ESOL teacher and a New Zealander of Palestinian descent. She is the widow of Abdelfattah Qasem (Abdul) and mother of his three daughters Dana, Rawan and Sara.


Sara Qasem: ‘He taught us the power of a smile’

To paint a picture of what my dad was like, that can probably be found in the grin that I made just mentioning the word ‘dad’. When anyone thought of Abdelfattah, Abdul, as lots of people knew him, the first thing that would come to mind would just be the biggest smile you could ever imagine. Big man, big smile. They go together. He was incredible.

He taught myself, as his daughter, his family and his friends the power of a smile. I think his joy is one of the legacies he’s left behind for us.

When it comes to something as sudden and as tragic and as heartbreaking and as shocking as March last year, time is immeasurable. When someone asks me “how does it feel a year later?” I often have to remind myself that it is a year later.

The word that I keep seeing when I am partaking in the things that I do in order to keep myself grounded and mindful and present, is “brave”. I think that’s a strength that’s come from last year, in some ways – bravery. It’s something that my dad taught us all.

That kind of hate that we saw last year is not a language that I understand. It’s not a language that I understand, it’s not a language that my family understands, it’s not a language that my community understands. It’s not a language that the foundations of my religion have been built on… that level of hate is the real other. It’s the real stranger, the real foreigner, not us.

There is no need for fear of the different. Everybody is the same, everybody just wants to find peace and joy and normality.

No room for hate. Just love, only love.

One of the key things that my family and myself are going to try to continue is to live through the legacy of my father, which is one of joy, one of connection, one of laughter.

Sara Qasem is a 24-year-old high school teacher and daughter of Abdelfattah Qasem (Abdul).


Mulki: ‘I don’t think I can ever get back to know the Mulki of March 14’

Every day after March 15 has involved trying to get back to normal life. It was such a sudden shift from normality, from being able to walk to the masjid, being able to be in large groups, being able to walk confidently with the identity that I have, being Muslim. All of a sudden that shifted to fear and not knowing why or what happened. Trying to balance the burden of trauma through day to day life. Going to sleep, waking up, just doing the normal things like brushing your teeth in the morning.

The Mulki on March 14 and the Mulki on March 16 are completely different. I don’t think I can ever get back to knowing who the Mulki of March 14 was.

When I would tell people that I ran barefoot with my mother, and that my father was shot in the back, it would be that I would have to wipe the tears of the person I was talking to, rather than vice versa. The idea of pity really kind of annoyed me. I couldn’t talk about my story the way I wanted to. I couldn’t fully let out of the details of what happened that day, because of the feeling of pity. The message I would like to put out there is that we really need to hear the raw details of what happened that day. Not just remembering it a year on, but every day after that.

My father’s wounds were superficial, so it wasn’t life threatening. Luckily he was under a pile of people. So he is fully recovered now, and just getting acupuncture now and then to help with the scar tissue. I guess, now, it’s just dealing with the aftermath of what happened.

I took a six month break from uni, just to take time, to heal.

I’ve become a lot more visible now, after this tragedy. I used to work at KFC. I remember before the attacks I would just serve people, and after the attacks I’ve noticed a really big change in terms of people actually seeing me now. You just see pity on people’s faces now. But I feel there is hope for this community, for Christchurch as a whole, in terms of just reaching out when you’re not sure of something, when you don’t know why someone is dressed a certain way, in any context, not necessarily Muslims. I feel the barriers of communication are so important. It literally just takes a conversation to break that barrier. It’s just finding the strength to put your fear aside and talk to people. I think fear is such a big thing, when we’re too afraid to ask questions to people directly and we’re finding answers from unreliable sources.

There is hope. But it is going to take time. And it’s going to take a lot of work.

Mulki is a student, born and raised in Christchurch of Somalian parents


Mohammad Shamim Siddiqui (Sam): ‘Everyone is equal, everyone is one human’

When the incident happened I was right here in the mosque. I managed to get out from the main hall and go out the back when the shooter came. After he shot everyone, he went to pick up another gun. In the meantime, I thought he had gone, and I came out of the car park at the back and he shot me from the main gate. I was talking to my wife on the phone at the time and he shot me from the back in the arm. Immediately I fell down and I dropped my phone, and then I noticed the blood coming out from my sleeve. I took off my jacket, I saw a big hole and I quickly fell down. I thought,”today I am going to die.”

The police took me out and took me to hospital and the whole time my wife was still on the phone with me listening to all the conversations because she was so worried. I told her I had been shot in the arm, but not to worry because I was safe in the hospital.

After that I have never driven a taxi. My earning is totally finished. If the people of New Zealand hadn’t helped us it would have been very bad because I’m not working, I’m just on ACC.

Yesterday I met the prime minister. She is a kind-hearted lady. She hugged my daughter, she hugged my wife – that’s love. Everyone is equal, everyone is one human, you know? If you think, “you’re Muslim, you’re Christian, you’re Sikh’,” you can’t live together, you’ll be finished.

I’ll be happy if I’m able to help someone, even now.

I’m trying to get back to work as soon as possible. Start living again, start planning again, start thinking again, because we had so many things a year ago … We were going to buy a new business, a new house, the bank was about to approve our loan. Suddenly, that was all cut. The bank said we couldn’t get a loan and I couldn’t even go in because I was injured, I couldn’t work so there was no point buying the business.

Thanks especially to my family, my wife, my kids, the people who looked after me in the tough times.

Mohammad Shamim Siddiqui (Sam) is a 59-year-old taxi driver 


Tony Green (Jamaal): ‘The best deed is the one that’s done regularly, however small.’

You look around at a space and you know where this person or that person would have prayed, and you would have prayed alongside them. There are gaps and that’s physical and emotional gaps.

Our recovery will take time. Recovery will take time and the issues people are dealing with are very, very broad. There are those who have lost. We say “loved ones”, that sounds trite. We’ve lost people who were the corner of their life, who were their reassurance. If we say “breadwinner”, again that sounds trite because the loss of an individual is a profound thing.

One lady called me and she said her husband’s name and she said, “I’m his wife, have you seen him?”… When I met her, I said “I’m so sorry,” and she said “he never came home.” That, to me is like a recurring phrase, because when this happens, and it happened to us last year, when it happens to the Jewish community, or a Hindu community or a Christian community, there are thousands of people whose sons, whose daughters, whose husbands and wives go out and they never come home.

We have a teaching, and the teaching is that the best deed is the one that’s done regularly, however small. It’s there in Islam, but it’s also there in William Wordsworth, “the best deeds of a good man’s life are the little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”

We lost more than 40 people in our mosque, overall we lost 51 people. We had one guy who hung on for 48 days. I spoke to his wife on the 29th of March when I got back from Singapore and we were walking down to the hospital and she said, “I just want my husband back.” It’s as simple as that.

The people who died in our mosque were decent, quiet people. In 20 years in that place I never heard anyone talk about hate or hurt to anyone else. Never did.

As we go forward, I’d love to see a much deeper level of questioning as to how this happens, because we don’t want this to happen to anyone else.

When I got back I was talking to one guy and his eyes were burning, he was there. He turned a little three-year-old boy over and closed his eyes. He said, “I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed that I survived. How did I survive unscathed?”

Tony Green (Jamaal) is the media spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Canterbury. He was in Singapore when the terror attack took place


Mohamed: ‘This wasn’t an attack on the mosque. It was an attack on New Zealand’

Thank God I didn’t see the Linwood video first. I saw the Masjid Al Noor shooting video. We watched it so many times to just identify the people that died. We were so lost that we literally traumatised ourselves just to find out if so-and-so was really dead.

I walked in after that shooting, and it didn’t look the same. There was a fresh coat of paint, and I was like, “that covered up the blood, didn’t it?”

People after the shooting would come up to me and they’d be like, “I’m so sorry”. In my heart I’m like, “piss off, man. The Paris attacks happened and you blamed me. I was having dinner with my freaking family, man … You think I’m some kind of terrorist?” One of my friends at high school, he walked up to me and was like, “what about that, Mohamed? Huh? Muslims aren’t terrorists?” … Now they’re like, ‘I’m sorry’. What do you have to be sorry for? You were at home, you were at school, you were just waking up or trying to go to your church or whatever. You didn’t do anything wrong, just like I never did. I have to comfort people who were like, “Mohamed, you’re in Islam, you’re a freakin’ terrorist”.

People did get closer after the shooting, but how come it had to take something so violent to bring us together? … Have you seen the xenophobia and the rudeness that’s happening to Asian people over Covid-19? How can you spread that hate and say, “we’re all New Zealanders, we’re all one”?

You’d think this was an attack on the Muslim community, but it was actually an attack on New Zealand itself. If you look at every other country where this has happened, there have always been attacks on other religious communities. In America they attack synagogues, mosques, churches. This wasn’t an attack on the mosque. It was an attack on New Zealand.

Mohamed (Mo-mo), 22, arrived in Christchurch from Somalia when he was three. 

To view the full videos from which the above, edited excerpts are drawn, and for more information on the One Year On project, see here.

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