DUBAI: New Zealand Muslims expressed shock and disbelief at terrorist attacks on two Christchurch mosques on Friday that left at least 49 worshippers dead and 50 others critically injured.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in New Zealand. It’s not what we are about,” Shamim Kassibawi, a publicist from New Zealand and UAE resident, told Arab News.
“We had Arabic and Islam school every Sunday, we were allowed to practice … it’s shocking,” she said.
“New Zealand is open to any religion and faith. Actually, religion is never discussed, so this is really new. I typically go back twice a year and my mother is (veiled) … we walk through airports, we go to the mall, no one looks at you twice,” she added.
Kassibawi spoke of the support she received after news of the terrorist attacks broke.
“All my friends back home, the Kiwis, they are messaging me, and sending lots of love and support. They’re putting up all these messages about how the Muslim community is a part of us,” she said.
The South Auckland Muslim Association issued a statement saying that it is “deeply saddened and disturbed by the attack on the Muslim community, targeted while at prayer.”
New Zealand’s last census in 2013 showed there were just over 46,000 Muslims in the country — a mere 1 percent of the population.
The number of people identifying as Muslims rose by 28 percent between 2006 and 2013, according to Stats NZ, and just over a quarter were born in New Zealand.
After the Christchurch attacks, Mustafa Farouk, president of the Islamic Associations of New Zealand, said that the community had always felt safe in the South Pacific nation.
“We feel that we are living in the safest country in the world. We never expected anything like this could happen,” he told television station TVNZ.
“Muslims have been living in New Zealand (for) over 100 years and nothing has ever happened to us like this, so this is not going to change the way we feel about New Zealand.”
At least 49 people, including children, were killed, and 50 others critically injured when a gunman opened fire on Masjid Al-Noor mosque and Linwood mosque in Christchurch.
Police detained three men and a woman, and later charged one man with murder.
One of the four detained after the mass shootings is Australian, said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.