New Zealand broken-hearted but not broken, Christchurch imam says on first Friday prayers after terror attack

Large crowd attends Friday prayers held at mosque attacked a week earlier

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Thousands of New Zealanders came together on Friday to pay respect to victims of the terror attacks on two mosques in Christchurch a week earlier, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the local imam delivered a message of peace and unity.

An outdoor prayer space had been set up in the Hagley Park across the road from Al Noor Mosque – the scene of the gunman's first attack where the majority of the 50 victims were killed.

The mosque's imam, Gamal Fouda, told the crowd of several thousand that while last Friday he saw hate and rage in the mosque attack, he now saw "love and compassion in the eyes of New Zealanders".

"The terrorist sought to tear us apart with an evil ideology. We have shown him that New Zealand is unbreakable," he said.

"We are broken-hearted but we are not broken. We are alive. We are together. We are determined to not let anyone divide us."

"The evil ideology of white supremacy did not break our spirits," Mr Fouda told the crowd. The people killed in the attack were not martyrs of Islam, but martyrs "of this nation, New Zealand", he said.

The imam thanked New Zealanders for their love and support and emergency services for their heroic efforts. He also thanked Prime Minister Ardern for her leadership and example.

"You honoured us with a simple scarf," he said of her decision to cover her head when meeting victims and Islamic community leaders during the week.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

He then called on governments around the world to "bring an end to hate speech and the politics of fear".

"Terror has no colour, no race and no religion," he said. "The rise of white supremacy must end now."

Earlier, Ms Ardern addressed worshippers at the mosque, and the large number of people who showed up in support, saying: "New Zealand mourns with you, we are one."

More than 30 television news crews covered the prayers, making it one of the most televised events in New Zealand's history.

Among those attending the prayers were survivors of the mosque attacks. Mostafa Abdelmonem, who was shot in his right arm, was full of praise for the support shown by ordinary New Zealanders.

"All this really helps make us feel safe," he said of the large crowd that turned up for the Friday prayers.

Originally from Egypt, Mr Abdelmonem has been in New Zealand for 12 years and works on a dairy farm in North Canterbury.

"We are going to stay here," he said. "Anyone who spreads hate can leave."

Taj Mohammad Kamran, 47, who was shot in the leg during the attack at Al Noor mosque, sat in a wheelchair after being allowed out of hospital to attend the prayers.

"It was a very good message," he said of the service. "Terrorism has no religion."

Originally from Afghanistan, Mr Kamran said he had lived in New Zealand for 12 years.

"I love this country. I have always been very happy here," he said.

Christchurch resident Derryn Whyte, 64, said she attended the prayers to show her solidarity with New Zealand's Muslims.

Derryn Whyte wears a head scarf as a show of support for the Islamic community. Steve Addison for The National

"I am absolutely devastated," she said. "I had no idea of the amount of racism there is in New Zealand."

She said she had decided to set an example and would not tolerate racism of any kind. "It is a huge turning point for New Zealand," she said. "We will stand up for people. We are all one community."

Pip Watson of Christchurch wears a head scarf to show support for New Zealand's Islamic community. Steve Addison for The National

Pip Watson, 48, came to Hagley Park wearing a headscarf to "show support" for the Muslim community, a gesture made by thousands of women around New Zealand on Friday.

"I want to help reassure [them] that they are safe when praying today," she said.

She criticised elements of New Zealand culture saying many people thought it was OK to make racist remarks to their friends. "We need to call out bullying and racism. It does not serve the community," she said.

"We need to stand up and say, that's not OK."

Muslims from other parts of New Zealand travelled to Christchurch to attend the prayers, including Maaisah Asim, 20, from Auckland.

From left Mohammed Khan, Arshaq Wahab, Ashiana Khan, and Maaisah Asim from Auckland at Hagley Park Friday prayers today. Steve Addison for The National

Ms Asim said she was touched by the actions of Prime Minister Ardern.

"I read that her baby took her first steps today. She wasn't at home to see it. She is here with us," she said. "She is uniting the country. She has shown how much she cares."

The prayers were held a day after Ms Ardern's government announced a ban on "military-style" semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines like the weapons that were used in last Friday's attacks.


The stories of the victims of the Christchurch mosque attack


The government implemented an immediate sales ban on Thursday to prevent stockpiling, and new laws would be rushed through parliament that would impose a complete ban on the weapons, Ms Ardern said.

"Every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned," she said.

The gun legislation is supported not only by Ms Ardern's liberal Labour Party but also the conservative opposition National Party, so it is expected to pass into law. New Zealand does not have a constitutional right to bear arms.

Ms Ardern also received a delegation from the UAE, which is visiting the country to convey the condolences of the leadership and people of the Emirates.