The Muslim call to prayer rang out across New Zealand on Friday followed by two minutes of nationwide silence to mark a week since a white supremacist gunned down 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.
As the call was broadcast around the country stood in a park opposite the mosque where the killing began, as the nation of 4.5 million came to a standstill.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern joined about 20,000 people standing quietly at Hagley Park, in front of the Al Noor mosque where most of the victims were killed during Friday prayers last week. “New Zealand mourns with you. We are one,” she said in a short speech, followed by two minutes of silence.
Ardern, who swiftly denounced the shooting as terrorism, has announced a ban on military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles.
New Zealand is still in shock following the killings by alleged shooter Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old
Australian national who had hoped to foment an ethnic war with his attacks.
But horrified Kiwis have responded with outpourings of love, with many embracing their Muslim neighbours on Friday in moving scenes across the country.
A muezzin in white skullcap issued the call to regular Friday prayers at 1.30 pm (0030 GMT) with chants of “Allahu Akhbar” (God is greatest) as thousands listened in Christchurch’s Hagley Park, across from the Al Noor Mosque.
The country then fell silent for two minutes, with public gatherings in Auckland, Wellington and other cities. In neighbouring Australia, people stopped in the streets and in shops to mark the moment. Al Noor imam Gamal Fouda then took to the lectern at Hagley Park to denounce the “evil ideology of white supremacy” and praise Kiwis for their support.
Most victims of New Zealand’s worst mass shooting were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Tens of thousands of people paid their respects around the country with some forming human chains in front of mosques. Others said silent prayers at schools, cafes and even offices.
Relatives and other mourners thronged into a Christchurch cemetery where 26 victims of the attack, and one person who died in a car crash that was unrelated to the mosque shooting, were laid to rest in a mass burial.
“This is a special janazah. We don’t do these every day,” one mourner said over a microphone, referring to an Islamic funeral prayer. “We don’t bury 27 of our brothers and sisters every day.”
The first to be laid to rest was Naeem Rashid, who was hailed as a hero, killed trying to tackle the gunman at the Al Noor mosque.
The Al Noor mosque remains closed as workers repair bullet-pocked walls and clean blood-spattered floors. But after Friday’s prayers, the sombre mood outside lightened markedly as non-Muslims approached the mosque to lay flowers or embrace and take selfies with Muslims.
Ardern, surrounded by ministers and security officials at Hagley Park, wore a black headscarf and a black suit. Female police at the park also wore headscarves, with a red rose on their uniforms.
In a powerful speech that lasted about 20 minutes, the imam, Fouda, said through its love and compassion, New Zealand was unbreakable. “We are here in our hundreds and thousands unified for one purpose – that hate will be undone, and love will redeem us,” he said. He thanked Ardern for her compassion, saying: “It has been a lesson for world leaders.”
Fouda also denounced Islamophobia, saying it had killed people. “Islamophobia is real. It is a targeted campaign to influence people to dehumanize and irrationally fear Muslims. To fear what we wear, to fear the choice of food we eat, to fear the way we pray and to fear the way we practice our faith,” he said.
Many women across the country wore headscarves in solidarity with Muslims. “I can take my scarf off if I feel afraid. They cannot,” said Kirsty Wilkinson, who came to Hagley Park with two friends, all in make-shift hijabs. “The message I want to send is that hate cannot win.”
Major New Zealand newspapers published special tributes on Friday, with the front page of Christchurch daily The Press bearing the Arabic word “Salam” (Peace) and the names of the 50 killed. The national mourning and moment of silence were broadcast on television networks, radio and across multiple local media websites.
“We are so happy that this prayer will be broadcast to the entire world so that everyone can be part of it,” Mustafa Farouk, president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, said in a statement announcing the prayer session.
Salwa Mustafa, who lost her husband Khalid and 15-year-old son Hamza in the massacre, had defiant words despite her devastating loss. “People say that… Muslims are terrorists. The whole world saw who is the terrorist,” she said of the shooter. “Muslims are people of peace and love, not terrorists. And I hope the whole world now can understand the real Islam, the reality of Islam.”