SYDNEY – With two minutes of silence and the Islamic call to prayer on Friday, New Zealand remembered the 50 people killed one week ago in a terror attack in two Christchurch mosques, considered the worst mass shooting in the country’s modern history.
“Last Friday I stood in this mosque and saw hatred and rage in the eyes of the terrorist, who killed and martyred 50 people, wounded 42 and broke the hearts of millions around the world,” said Gamal Fouda, the imam of the Al Noor mosque where 42 people died.
“Today, from the same place, I look out and I see love and compassion in the eyes of thousands of fellow New Zealanders and human beings from across the globe that fill the hearts of millions more who are not with us physically but in spirit,” added the imam in a speech in front of thousands that was broadcast on public radio and television along with the call to prayer and two minutes of silence at 1:32 pm (0032 GMT).
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was present at Hagley Park near Al Noor mosque where members of the public gathered under heavily armed police surveillance while they paid their respects.
Shortly before the tribute, Ardern, dressed in black and wearing a headscarf or hijab, greeted the crowd in Arabic and said “when any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain.”
“New Zealand mourns with you. We are one,” she said in a short speech.
Fouda said that the gathering “with all the shades of our diversity, is a testament of our joint humanity.”
“We are here in our hundreds and thousands unified for one purpose – that hate will be undone and love will redeem us,” the imam said in a speech in which he thanked New Zealanders for their tears, their haka (traditional Maori dance), their flowers, their love and their compassion.
“We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken. We are alive, we are together, we are determined to not let anyone divide us,” added the imam, who called on the world’s governments “to bring an end to hate speech and the politics of fear.”
He also thanked the Muslim community for their “strength and forgiveness.”
The bells of Catholic and Anglican churches across the country will ring 50 times at 3:00 pm.
Many women also wore a headscarf or hijab in solidarity with Muslim women who have been harassed for their faith or fear going out after the attack.
Police officer Michelle Evans stood outside Memorial Park Cemetery, where large numbers of victims are being buried, wearing a hijab and a flower in her bulletproof vest, a photograph published by the news website Stuff.co.nz showed.
The New Zealand Police completed the identification of all the victims on Thursday and families have been burying their loved ones since Wednesday amid the support of the New Zealand community that has united under the slogan “We are one, they are us,” coined by Ardern in the wake of the tragedy.
Ardern announced on Thursday the New Zealand government will ban military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles, as well as high-capacity magazines and parts that can modify weapons into semi-automatics, which she hopes will be approved by mid-April.
The measure, also backed by the opposition National Party, was decided after the alleged attacker, a 28-year-old Australian man, acquired five weapons legally. According to the authorities at least one was modified.
The sole suspect will appear in court on April 5 charged with one count of murder, although more charges are expected. The suspect has sacked his lawyer and chosen to represent himself.