On 8th April 2019, I tentatively walked towards the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand with my family.
The countless flowers, emotional tributes and soft toys that greeted us overwhelmed my senses. Struggling to fight back the tears, I felt humbled by this extreme contradiction. Three and a half weeks earlier 42 people had lost their lives, and another 50 were injured in a senseless terrorist attack fuelled by hate and ignorance. This sanctuary had been violated in the worst way possible. Today we were met only by love.
With uncertainty, we entered the mosque, and I put on a hijab to cover my hair and neck.
Slowly walking through the corridor to the main prayer room we were warmly greeted with open hearts, smiles and thanks for visiting. At a time when we’d expect this community to be angry, scared and confused, they wholeheartedly opened their sacred space to those of us wanting to reach out, offer our love, support and simply ponder why.
We sat in the prayer room and talked to a man called Ali.
A Pakistani Muslim who had volunteered his time to fly to the other side of the world and educate people about Islam and answer any questions asked of him. For an hour we listened to his words on Islam and how everyone was surviving this horrifying ordeal.
Within moments of sitting down, my four-year-old daughter was generously gifted a soft toy.
A brand-new brown moose with white antlers displaying the red Canadian flag became her much-loved friend. She quietly sat on her father’s knee unaware of the atrocities that had played out only weeks prior. My eight-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son listened intently as discussions took place, questions were asked, and two worlds moved visibly closer in a matter of moments.
Love unquestionably overrode fear.
Love enabled people to keep their hearts open rather than close them down like so many of us would have consciously or unconsciously done. They were determined not to let one man’s deeds, his moments of delusion and madness, define them or dictate their futures. Nor were they going to judge others by his actions. They had already forgiven him. Would we have done the same? Or would we have allowed fear to dictate our thoughts, words and actions?
What struck me the most was how surprisingly calm and peaceful this place felt.