Australia’s open mosque day attracts crowds after the New Zealand attack

The Omar Al Khattab Mosque welcomed hundreds of visitors on Sunday, writes Paul Stafford in Melbourne

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 16: Syima Mansor reads a note after prayer, as flowers and cards are left outside the mosque at the Islamic Council of Victoria on March 16, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. At least 49 people are confirmed dead, with more than 40 people injured following attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday afternoon. 41 of the victims were killed at Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue and seven died at Linwood mosque. Another victim died later in Christchurch hospital. Three people are in custody over the mass shootings. One man has been charged with murder. (Photo by Jaimi Chisholm/Getty Images)

People in Victoria flocked to mosques throughout the Australian state on Sunday to offer condolences and show solidarity with the Muslim community after the Christchurch massacre.

The state’s annual open mosque day came just two days after a gunman in the New Zealand city of Christchurch killed at least 50 people at Friday prayers and left around 50 more in hospital.

Australian national Brenton Tarrant has been charged over the onslaught.

About 500 visitors were reported at the Omar Al Khattab Mosque in the northern Melbourne suburb of Preston this year, up from a usual 100 to 150.

“We’ve had overwhelming messages of support, of condolences, of solidarity,” said Baha Yehia, 43, a community relations volunteer with the mosque.

“During these difficult times, the Australian spirit really comes to the forefront and you see people getting together, lifting each other, supporting each other and whatever differences there might have been get put aside because this is a tragedy we all share.

“I’d like to think that all of Australia is sharing the same pain because we’ve always seen New Zealand as a neighbour.”

Mr Yehia, of Lebanese descent, said he did not think the fact that the accused was Australian played a part in the show of support.

Mazen Adel, 50, a Palestinian who was also volunteering for the open day, said the tributes and condolences flowing in were extremely moving.

“Every time I see someone bring flowers or words of condolences, tears come from my eyes because I feel how soft their heart is and their feeling for the people,” Mr Adel said.

“What happened was terrible. It shouldn’t happen. But the response was overwhelming. New Zealand is very close to home. I feel like that congregation was my congregation.

“What happened is based on the ignorance of others. This is what causes such atrocities.”

Local Paul Stewart, 48, has two workmates who pray at Omar Al Khattab mosque and had planned to visit “even before the horrible events of the other day”.

“Every sensible person would be horrified at the events of the other day and we just want to show some support for anyone who was affected by such a horrible day,” Mr Stewart said.

He said he was sickened that an Australian could be responsible for such acts.

“That anyone would do it is pretty horrible but someone who has grown up with the opportunities and everything that we’ve had here …”

Katie Larsen, who was born in the New Zealand city of Wellington, was also at the open day.

“The only good thing that comes from something like this is when people come together and show that we’re more committed to love than to hate,” she said.

Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria, was another visitor to Omar Al Khattab mosque on Sunday.

“My message to Victoria’s Muslim community was this: you are valued, you are respected, you are loved,” Mr Andrews tweeted later.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also attended the mosque.