In an emotional tribute in Christchurch to the victims of New Zealand’s deadliest massacre, the Muslim community has thanked the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern for holding their “families close and honouring us with a simple scarf”.
Dressed in a traditional black hijab with gold embroidery edging, Ms Ardern was near tears as she listened to the words of al Noor mosque Imam Gamal Fouda, who acknowledged that in the past seven days she had been “one with us” in supporting the Muslim community and reaching out to grieving families.
“Thank you for your leadership. It has been a lesson for the world’s leaders. Thank you for holding our families close and honouring us with a simple scarf.
“Thank you for your words and tears of compassion. Thank you. For being one with us. Thank you to the New Zealand Government and to all the wonderful people who have shown us that we matter and are not forgotten.
In response, Ms Ardern was seen to nod and at one stage placed her hand on her heart in recognition of Imam Fouda’s appreciation of how New Zealand’s police, front-line services and community showed “that we matter and are not forgotten”.
Muslim community and supporters from around the world gathered to pray in Christchurch on Friday at 1.30pm (local time) the Islamic call to prayer was broadcast on television and radio across New Zealand followed by a two-minute silence.
Across the country, people in shopping centres, at work and at airports stopped to pay tribute to those who died last Friday after a man armed with semi-automatic weapons walked into the al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, killing men, women and children who were there for afternoon prayers.
Opening proceedings, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Muslim worshippers: “New Zealand mourns with you. We are one”.
Ms Ardern cited the Prophet Muhammad: “When any part of the body suffers the whole body feels pain”.
Imam Fouda, who led the prayers, told the crowd that “the hearts of millions” not present were with the community in spirit: “This terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology that has torn the world apart”.
“Instead, we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable and that the world can see in us an example of love and unity. We are
broken-hearted but we are not broken. We are alive! We are together!
“We are determined to not let anyone divide us. Our assembly here, with
all the shades of our diversity, is a testament of our joint humanity.
“We are here in our hundreds and thousands unified for one purpose – that hate will be undone and love will redeem us,” he told the crowd.
Thousands more Christchurch locals, visitors and 30 foreign dignitaries came to support the Muslim community and survivors of the attacks.
— Barbara Miller (@abcbarbm) March 22, 2019
Halfway through Imam Fouda’s address, he acknowledged the prime minister for “teaching the world what it means to love and care”.
Community leader and head of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, Mustafa Farouk, said he appreciated “the support that the people of New Zealand have given to us at this time, and the opportunity to do this”.
“We are so happy that this prayer will be broadcast to the entire world so that everyone can be a part of it.”
Meanwhile, a mass burial was delayed on Friday afternoon as crowds rushing from the al Noor mosque caused traffic jams heading to the Memorial Park Cemetery.
Police confirmed on Thursday all of the dead had been formally identified and their bodies ready for release to the families.
More than 500 mourners attended the burials of 26 people, which got underway at 5.15pm (local time), including the youngest victim, a new father and a proud grandfather who were among the group of final victims laid to rest in Christchurch.
Friday’s funeral crowds stretched from a marquee reserved for prayers all the way to the freshly dug graves across the lawn cemetery. Bodies shrouded in white cloth were carried above mourners to their final resting places.
The sheer scale of Friday’s farewells means five or six funerals will be held at each time.
“It is a very grieving time … most of you would have never seen this in your life,” one man told the crowd, asking that mourners show each other kindness and unity in the tough moments to come.
Another said it was a special time: ”We don’t bury 26 of our beloved ones every day,” he told the gathered crowds. ”It’s going to be a very emotional process, it’s going to be a very tough process.”
One by one, carried by a few, supported by thousands. The mass burial has begun for 26 victims of the Christchurch mosque terror attacks. pic.twitter.com/5SiXzoJOak
— Karen Sweeney (@karenlsweeney) March 22, 2019
More than a dozen victims were buried on Wednesday and Thursday, including grandfather Haji-Daoud Nabi, 71, whose final words – “Hello, brother” – greeted the gunman who first attacked the al Noor mosque.
Three teenagers were also among those laid to rest.
On Thursday, Ms Ardern announced all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles would be banned in the hope such a tragedy never happens again.
Legislation to introduce the ban, which also includes high-capacity magazines and parts that can turn legal guns into assault weapons, is expected to be introduced in parliament by April 11.
But after 3pm on Thursday, the weapons became illegal under interim measures.
“In short, every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country,” Ms Ardern said, confident the laws will have majority support across the country, including from the Opposition.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush warned that after an initial amnesty period, including a buyback estimated to cost upward of $NZ100 million ($97 million), anyone still found with the guns would be prosecuted.