By Anees Teladia
As Muslims killed in the Christchurch terror attacks in New Zealand were finally laid to rest on Friday, a Capetonian living in New Zealand for the past 13 years, Mohammed Abbas, has described it as a “difficult week”.
“Emotions were running high. The communities have rallied together and everyone has had so much patience. Most people now have some closure,” Abbas told VOC Breakfast Beat.
Thousands of people gathered for a mass funeral on Friday to bury 26 of the victims of the mosque attacks in Christchurch. Family members took turns passing around shovels and wheelbarrows to bury their loved ones.
There was a sombre atmosphere at Hagley Park, where swarms of people paid their respects in a memorial service attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
“The process has been very well managed by the government and our religious institutions…family and friends are prioritised to be part of the janaazah,” said Abbas.
Contrary to the wishes of the terrorist, the reaction to the massacre has been one of solidarity and love, even strengthening Islam in some respects.
“The show of solidarity, the rallying together of Muslims and non-Muslims in attendance, the messages from all over the world, have just been so fantastic.”
“More people are showing a genuine interest in Islam. Just yesterday a non-Muslim European walked up to us and said, ‘This has been so beautiful, I’d like to take shahadat – I’d like to be in the fold of Islam’.”
“He took shahadat on the spot, in the cemetery, just after another Muslim brother was buried,” said Abbas.
Abbas also commented on an interaction he had with one of the Muslim brothers in attendance at the janaazah, whose best friend was murdered. Abbas asked the Muslim brother how he was still able to be so warm, loving and continuing to smile, to which the brother replied by saying it was all thanks to his deen.
Abbas recalled the man saying that what gets him through all the pain is when he looks up and lifts his hands in prayer – that it makes him feel contented.
Remarkably, criminal groups widely considered to be the most violent in many societies, i.e. gangs, have taken a positive stand on the issue.
“No one would imagine that the gangs in New Zealand have united over the last few days. Every masjid has senior gang members and their families protecting Muslims at the janaazahs and in masjids all over New Zealand,” said Abbas.
Asked about the Prime Minister’s decision to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, in addition to a change in gun laws, Abbas said:
“By and large the vast majority of New Zealanders have expressed support for the new gun bans. Quite naturally there was some slight opposition – but it’s been passed into law… we’re moving on with things.”