Defiance, tears and joy as Christchurch unites | 2019-03-23 |

Defiance, tears and joy as Christchurch unites

23 March, 2019 12:00 AM printer

CHRISTCHURCH: When the prayer memorial ended in Christchurch, Ahmad Khan stood shoulder-to-shoulder with three Maori men in traditional dress as they all stuck out their tongues, reports AFP.

“It’s unbelievable looking at the crowd here, thousands of people gathering behind us during prayers,” said Khan, a 36-year-old businessman who flew down from Auckland to attend the service.

“It’s a feeling of rejoicing.”

Joy might seem like an odd word for someone who hails from a community that just had an unimaginable atrocity committed against them.

The killings began only a short distance away at the bloodstained Al Noor mosque, which is still shuttered to the public. But Khan said he was buzzing. No longer was his community isolated, shunned or viewed with suspicion. 

The memory of those lost was, of course, painful. But for now, he wanted to bask in that newfound community spirit.

Khan was not alone.

A queue of worshippers waited for pictures with the three Maoris—men in prayer caps and long tunics, veiled women and young children squealing with delight as the trio put on their most frightening war faces.

The crowd reflected the sheer diversity of those affected by last week’s devastating attacks.

At the front, divided into male and female sections, were those hit the hardest—thousands of Muslim worshippers facing the mosque for prayers, including survivors and relatives of those killed.

It looked much like any outdoor Friday prayer session. But what made the gathering so extraordinary were the thousands of non-Muslims behind them.

There were families from across New Zealand, biker gang members standing guard, Maoris in traditional attire, and priests in clerical collars.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also attended, as did a self-declared wizard clad in flowing robes and a pointed hat.

Some brought guitars and sang songs. Others held placards.

One banner held by two people next to where Muslim men were washing ahead of prayers simply read: “We support our Muslim neighbours.”