by M. Nasir Jawed
Conventionally a calm and cool country, New Zealand woke up on March 15 to a terrible news: A far-right terror attack had struck twice that Friday afternoon, slaughtering 50 people in two mosques. It didn’t take us long to know the details of the incident including the gunman, who gave us enough reasons to call him a terrorist.
An Australian-born Dunedin resident, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, is a white supremacist. He live-streamed online the massacre and posted images of the weapons to Twitter before the feed was taken down. The weapons were scrawled with white text. An examination of the text revealed his obsession with the history of conflicts between Christians and the Islamic empire. Tarrant has since been arrested and charged by New Zealand Police with murder.
The Rising Tide of Hatred
What happened at Al-Noor Mosque in central Christchurch and at Linwood Mosque that also wounded scores, cannot be seen in isolation. It has been happening for decades. Anti-Muslim attacks have been on the rise in the past few years worldwide, mainly in the United Kingdom, Canada, United States and many other places.
An imam and his associated are killed near their mosque in Queens, New York in August 2016; a man sprays bullets inside a mosque in central Zurich, Switzerland, in December 2016, wounding at least three worshippers; in January 2017, one Alexandre Bissonnettee kills six worshippers and injures many at a Quebec City mosque in Canada; in May 2017, Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, engages in racial slurs at two Muslim women on a train in the north-western US state of Oregon leading to a scuffle in which he stabbed to death two men who tried to intervene in the matter; a 48-year-old Darren Osborne drives his van into a group of worshippers in London in June 2017 killing one and injuring nine. Osborne reportedly shouted: “I want to kill all Muslims – I did my bit.”
Spain too saw spurt in attacks, some of them deadly, on Muslims in the cities of Barcelona, Madrid, Navarre and Cambrils as also on the mosques of Granada, Fuenlabrada, Logrono and Seville are desecrated and firebombed.
In India, Muslims are being lynched on the streets on flimsy ground by Hindu fanatics.
In Myanmar and Sri Lanka, they are being targeted by radical Budhists.
These are but just some of the incidents that are happening around the world sparking debates about the growing phenomenon of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred as also rising tide of far-right politics in several countries.
In the Occupied Palestinian land, terrorists killing Muslims are a common sight with no restrains from the government.
A disturbing trend indeed, but it is important for the Muslims to remake their approach while dealing with such a situation; and need to think: Are they deeply disappointed and depressed with such incidents; are they angry and getting impulsive when it comes to Muslim response? Are they resigned to their fate, or getting inclined to taking a path of destruction and devastation? Or, they still see a ray of hope; the glimmer of a promising future; and are therefore reasoning out with the saner voice in the society?
If a gunman in New Zealand with his stupid ideology kills 29 people inside a mosque, the shooter’s entire family there, including the 81-year-old grandmother, feels “devastated.”
“We’re all gobsmacked, we don’t know what to think … We’re so sorry, for the families over there, for the dead and the injured … [we] just want to go home and hide … It’s just so much of everything to take in that somebody in our family would do anything like this,” the granny said while speaking to Australian media.
But this is not just all that Muslims got from the New Zealand community in response to the grisly incident that shook them to the hilt.
Sample this: Churches in New Zealand opened doors for the Muslims to pray when mosques were closed for security reasons. Mosques received messages of solidarity and flowers. A fundraiser for the victims is nearing $400,000. And a UK-based national forum for Christian-Muslim engagement is calling on Christians to go along to Friday prayers at their local mosques – a call the archbishop of Canterbury endorsed.
Churches in London such as St. Paul’s Cathedral offered prayers during daily services for those affected by the shootings in New Zealand.
The church tweeted: “We pray too for our Muslim friends (and neighbors) here and around the world.”
A Christian Muslim Forum based in London urged Christians to go to Friday prayers at their local mosques “to stand in solidarity” with Muslims.
The forum announced on Twitter with the hashtag #WeStandTogether: “The devastating attacks in Christchurch bring us together in grief and in our determination to fight hatred with friendship.”
People wrote message using #TheyAreUs to signal that Muslims are welcome in New Zealand.
The message #TheyAreUs gained traction after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern used the words in a twitter in response to the attack. It soon became viral and people used the messages using the hashtag #TheyAreUs to signal that Muslims are welcome in New Zealand.
In another show of solidarity, the Jewish community in the country shut its synagogues on Shabbat for the first time, according to a tweet by Isaac Herzog, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Northlanders turned up en masse to walk and sing alongside the Muslim community in a show of solidarity.
Hundreds of people took out a vigil march from Whangarei’s Town Basin to Laurie Hall Park, organised by various faiths and community leaders throughout Northland. The attendees at Laurie Hall Park said the show of support for the Muslim community from people from all walks of life showed bigotry and hatred could not win.
They are right. Hatred will never win. These concerns about humanity have never been a one-way track. Muslims have shown similar gestures during incidents of terror attacks and mass shootings whether in Cairo or in Pittsburg when a 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers gunned down in a synagogue. The Muslim-American nonprofit groups CelebrateMercy and MPower Change launched a crowd-funding appeal that raised thousands for the victims.
Recently after terrorist attacks on churches in Sri Lanka, Muslims have taken out procession to condemn the attack and in support of the Christians not just in Sri Lanka, but also in India and Pakistan.
Yet, New Zealand will always be remembered not just for the spontaneous nationwide support that erupted for the victim community, but also for the inspiring leadership of Jacinda Ardern, who set some lofty examples as how to respond to a crisis when struck with such a misfortune.
The prime minister by her very compelling example of leadership saved New Zealand from falling into an abyss of hatred and polarization, which is unfortunately a current phenomenon in many a country. In one go, Jacinda made the Muslims forget the incident and prod them to move on. Leadership is like the savior in times of crisis, a healer of wounds and a strong force to keep the flock intact and united. Whenever this happens, the leader rises from petty politics to become a statesman, a model to follow; a leader of mettle that makes his/her people a strong backbone of the society and the nation, rather than a liability.
While reaching out to the shaken community, Prime Minister Jacinda with a head scarf, told the Muslims: “This is not New Zealand … This is your home, you should have been safe here.”
Several countries hailed Jacinda for her statesman-like approach during the incident. A few weeks later, Prince William of the United Kingdom visited New Zealand (April 26) and told the New Zealanders: “You stood up (to attacks) and you stood up together.”
The prince rightly declared: “The global idealism of hate will fail to divide us.” In another inspiring speech at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque, Prince William addressed the Muslims and called on them all to unite to fight racism in all its forms.
Located in the South Pacific, New Zealand is a country of about 60 million sheep but only 4.9 million people, of whom about 50,000 are Muslims, who first arrived here in 1868 from China to work in the mining industry, but soon returned as the industry declined. They came again in 1908 and settled in Auckland, but they took a firm foothold in the country from 1950 onwards. Although in small number, they soon organized themselves, gathering in private homes to observe salaat (prayers), conduct Qur’an classes and hold religious celebrations. Later they purchased ordinary houses, converting them into Islamic centres in all major cities throughout the country.
In 1950, they formed a regional Muslim association in Auckland, called the New Zealand Muslim Association (NZMA) and followed it up in the other regions like the Wellington Muslim Association in Wellington in 1962, which later became the International Muslim Association of New Zealand (IMAN). By mid-1950s, every region had set up Muslim associations, which were registered with the government as incorporated societies. They used these bodies mainly for the immediate needs of their communities. In most cases, this meant establishing classes for Qur’an-reading and Islamic studies. Despite the scarcity of educational resource material and adequately trained teachers, these classes filled the need for some form of Islamic education in what was a completely secular environment.
In September 1979, Muslims established a national body called the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand to coordinate with the regional associations and also to represent the interests of Muslims as a whole, at national and international levels.
Today, the Muslims in New Zealand comprise about 35 different nationalities. There are about 60 mosques in the country.
They have also secured from the local city councils plots of land for burial. Schools and universities send their classes to visit Islamic centres and mosques to get a better appreciation of Islam and its rituals. Universities and other training institutions are visited by Muslims for information on Islam. TV and radio programs are presented, and scholars of international repute are invited for public lectures.
Bracing for Ramadan
The administration in New Zealand has ramped up security at an unprecedented level in view of the holy month of Ramadan that begins on May 6, depending on the sighting of the moon.
In view of the March 15 deadly shooting, the police are said to have had several meetings with Islamic leaders. They will remain alert for the whole of the holy month despite downgrading to ‘minimum’ the terror threat level on April 17, after being lifted to high for the first time in the country’s history since the Christchurch attacks. Police have committed to having armed officers present at the mosque during every evening prayer over the holy month.
Despite the incident, there was no letup in enthusiasm among the community while welcoming the holy month of Ramadan.
A number of people including non-Muslims wish to take part in the mosque’s Ramadan rituals this year. More people were curious about Islam after the attacks, others wanted to do it to show solidarity with Muslims.
Ramadan in New Zealand has taken place over the shortest winter days over the past few years enabling Muslims to fast for about 12 hours compared to more than 19 hours in Europe or about 14 hours in the Middle East.
Allah Almighty says: “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.’ Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.” (Quran, 2:155-157)
In the given atmosphere of hatred and hostilities, Muslims need to play a vital role on global level to encourage the concept of mutual existence – by words and deeds. Damage has been done – both from within and outside – to drive across a wicked message that Muslims can’t coexist with others, which is wrong. Muslims’ is the most flexible culture that all through the history has been able to adapt to the strangest of strange places in the world. This is one reason why Islam spread so fast and so consistently. Instead of falling prey to the sinister machinations of the preachers of hatred, Muslims need to prove that they abhor terrorism and hatred in all its faces and forms whether they are coming from inside or outside. We need to expose and shame all these preachers of hatred.
We are not alone. In this path of peace and truth, we will always find Jacindas and Williams on our side, enough to frustrate their evil plans.