New Zealand honors victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack

Graphic by Natalie Kulak ’21

Graphic by Natalie Kulak ’21


One week after the March 15 terrorist attack that killed 50 Muslims at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, 5,000 mourners gathered in a park across from Al Noor for a Muslim prayer service. At the service, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivered a speech dressed in a black headscarf prior to broadcasting the Islamic call to prayer, or adhan, nationwide.

“The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said ‘the believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body,’” Ardern recited. “‘When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain.’ New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”

The call to prayer was broadcast on national radio and television across New Zealand at the beginning of the service and was followed by two minutes of silence to remember the victims of the attack. The communal Friday afternoon prayers, referred to as Jumu’ah, then took place.

Imam Gamal Fouda of Al Noor Mosque spoke at the service and praised Ardern for her leadership fol- lowing the attack. “Thank you for holding our families close and honoring us with a simple scarf,” he said in his speech.

Fouda also touched on Islamophobia and white su- premacy. “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 un- breakable,” he said. “The rise of white supremacy and right-wing extremism is a great global threat to man- kind and this must end now.”

Thousands of non-Muslim women, ranging from police of cers to TV news presenters to everyday citizens, wore headscarves at the service out of respect for and in solidarity with the Muslim community. Officers wore green ribbons pinned to their chests as a sign of peace and support.

Toward the end of the service, New Zealanders per- formed the traditional Maori ceremonial dance known as the “haka.” The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand whose culture and traditions have become a central part of New Zealand’s national identity.

Mihirangi, a Maori musician and haka teacher from the Ngoti Rokeiora tribe, told CBC Radio, “You can’t help but stand up and listen. You can’t help but feel moved by it.”

The broadcast of the adhan and the haka performances are two of many ways New Zealanders have chosen to respond to the attack. On March 21, Ardern unveiled a ban on military-style semiautomatic weapons. “Related parts used to convert these guns into [military-style semiautomatic weapons] are also being banned, along with all high-capacity magazines,” Ard- ern said in her announcement.

Under the newly-proposed law, New Zealanders are required to register online to set up a time to hand in their guns to police and the government will pay them what their guns are worth. According to the New York Times, within the rst few hours of the announcement, more than 300 gun owners lled out forms to turn in the newly banned weapons.

For Muslim communities in New Zealand and worldwide, the attack is still fresh. Aïcha Belabbes ’19, a Muslim student at Mount Holyoke College, expressed that “what happened in New Zealand was what I have imagined to happen in my worst fantasies, and to see it happening in real life was devastating.”

Like Fouda, Belabbes commented on the rise of white supremacy and hate crimes. “The horrific events in New Zealand reminded me how important socialist and anti-fascist organizing is, and I hope that people learn from what happened and attack hatred and white supremacy at every turn,” she said.

Belabbes also praised the way New Zealanders responded to the attack. “What heartened me was the re- sponse from New Zealanders to the event, from playing the adhan to performing the haka,” she stated.

Dur-e-Maknoon Ahmed ’20, another Muslim stu- dent at Mount Holyoke, also commented on the attack. “I remember sitting in a cafe with the intention of doing homework the day the news broke, but the news was too much to take in,” she said. “It was a harsh remind- er that Muslim bodies and lives are not respected in a world ruled by white imperialism.”

Although Ahmed appreciated New Zealand’s approach to the attack, she was disappointed with the College’s response. When speaking about the vigil Mount Holyoke held for the Christchurch victims on March 18, Ahmed said, “I was disheartened at the vigil when it felt like a lot of performative allyship was happening from non Muslims, who seemed to be proud of showing up, regardless of the fact that their refusal to actively ght white supremacy causes attacks like this.”

But, despite her disappointment, Ahmed praised the support she received from the Muslim community at Mount Holyoke. “It meant a lot to have the support of the Muslim chaplain, Liza, who texted me to see how I was doing after the news started coming [in],” she said.

Throughout the week following the tragedy, mourners have laid the victims to rest. In his speech at the Fri- day prayer service in New Zealand, Fouda addressed all Muslim communities. “We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken. We are alive, we are together, we are determined to not let anyone divide us,” he said. “To the families of the victims: your loved ones did not die in vain. Their blood has watered the seeds of hope.”