CHRISTCHURCH: The Muslim call to prayer rang out over Christchurch and around New Zealand on Friday, as thousands gathered to remember the 50 people gunned down at two mosques a week ago.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led an estimated 5,000 people standing quietly at Hagley Park in front of the Al Noor mosque, where most of the victims died.
“New Zealand mourns with you. We are one,” she said in a short speech, followed by two minutes of silence.
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.
“We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken. We are alive, we are together, we are determined to not let anyone divide us,” Imam Fouda told the gathered crowd, many wearing headscarves in support.
“To the families of the victims, your loved ones did not die in vain. Their blood has watered the seeds of hope,” he said in prayers broadcast nationally. Ardern, who swiftly denounced the attack as terrorism, announced a ban on military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles under tough new gun laws on Thursday.
New Zealand mourns
The #headscarfforharmony movement, launched by an Auckland doctor, encouraged people to wear headscarves on Friday to show their support for the Muslim community.
Robyn Molony, 65, was with a group of friends wearing headscarves at Hagley Park, where they walked daily.
“We are wearing headscarves showing our support, love and solidarity, and hope that by everybody doing this it will demonstrate to Muslim women ... that they are one with us,” she said.
Images of a grieving Ardern wearing a black headscarf as she visited families of the victims a day after the attacks were broadcast around the world.
Muslims account for just over one per cent of New Zealand’s population, most of whom were born overseas.
“We’re not moving on. This grieving is going to take a long time,” said 52-year-old Christchurch resident Bell Sibly, who wore a headscarf to show her support. “But what he’s done, he was hoping to divide us, and instead, he’s brought us all together in one big hug.”
Residents of Christchurch are still recovering from a devastating earthquake that hit in 2011, killing 185 and injuring thousands.
“Since the earthquakes, we’ve gone through a lot as a city and we’re a lot more caring and looking out for one another,” said James Sheehan, 62.
Armed police have been guarding mosques around New Zealand since the attacks and police said there would be a “heightened presence” on Friday to reassure those attending weekly prayers.
Officers dotted around Christchurch wore green ribbons pinned to their chests as a sign of peace and solidarity.
Candlelight vigils continued until late on Thursday across the country, while volunteers prepared the bodies of the deceased for a mass burial that are expected after the prayers.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with one murder following the attack and was remanded without a plea.
Media reported police had initially named a survivor of the attack as the victim, requiring a change to his charge sheet.
Tarrant is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.-Reuters