A memorial event should be held every year to remember the 51 people killed during the Christchurch mosque shootings, says one of the city’s imams who survived the attacks.
Tens of thousands are expected to attend a national remembrance service in Hagley Park on March 15 on the first anniversary of New Zealand’s worst ever terror attack.
In recent days, some members of the Muslim community have expressed displeasure over the service, saying it contradicts Islamic culture, which does not typically mark anniversaries.
Otago Muslim Association president Mohammed Rizwan said many of the victims and their families were not consulted about the service, and were unhappy it was going ahead.
A Canterbury Muslim Association spokeswoman said while they understood the interest in holding such a memorial event, they wanted to “move forward and go on with our lives”.
But speaking to the Herald yesterday, the imam of Al Noor Masjid, Gamal Fouda said the events of March 15 were a “crime against humanity” and as such deserved to be treated as an exception to the normal Islamic rules.
The memorial is an opportunity for New Zealanders to stand together against hate and hate speech, he believes.
“We are there to represent peace,” said Fouda, who also condemned the recent mass shooting in Germany, described as a Christchurch “copycat” attack.
“Anywhere in New Zealand, if Muslims want to apply the normal rule, they can apply it outside of Christchurch – but in here, it’s an exception – because we are here to say that the voice of love should be louder than the voice of evil.”
Fouda, who will give an address at the memorial event, said those killed in the mosques are remembered and prayed for every day.
But he “strongly supports” calls for an annual memorial service to the victims of March 15 every year.
“They should not be forgotten,” he said.
Christchurch City Council has been planning the national remembrance service to “honour those killed in the Christchurch mosque attacks and to build on the spirit of unity that came out of the tragedy” since October last year.
Council officials have held several consultation events with family members and victims to ensure the event was suitable and included talks around the selection of speakers and plans to acknowledge each of the deceased.
While the final order of service is yet to be released, it’s understood that both Fouda and Linwood Mosque imam Alabi Lateef Zirullah will speak, along with Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.
The Herald understands there will also be a video tribute to the 51 victims along with Islamic and Māori prayers, concluding with the national anthem.
Police staying tight-lipped about security measures for the event, for “operational reasons” according to a spokeswoman, but it’s expected to be comprehensive.
At the national remembrance service in North Hagley Park just a fortnight after the shootings, where British singer and prominent Muslim, Yusuf Islam performed, snipers, armed police, specialist units, and undercover officers, were on high alert.
Many local Muslims spoken to by the Herald are dreading the emotions and memories that will inevitably resurface around the anniversary.
With March 15 approaching, and the alleged gunman’s trial looming in June, Fouda says “all of the memories have come back”.
But the community is taking strength from their faith and continuing to spread the message of love and stand against hate and against hate speech because, as Fouda says, “that was a war against all of us.”
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