Christchurch survivor tells remembrance service: ‘I choose peace’

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Farid Ahmed, one of the survivors, speaks during the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
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Religious leaders take their seats ahead of the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
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New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks with relatives of victims of the mosque attacks at the national remembrance service at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
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People cry as they sing the national anthem during the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
Updated 29 March 2019

Christchurch survivor tells remembrance service: ‘I choose peace’

  • Speakers honored the dead and those who survived the March 15 attacks,
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was joined by representatives from nearly 60 nations, including her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: A Maori lament echoed across Christchurch Friday as a survivor of the New Zealand mosque attacks told a national remembrance service he had forgiven the gunman responsible for the racist massacre that shocked the world.
Thousands attended the service in the grieving southern city, standing silently with heads bowed while the names of 50 people killed by a self-avowed white supremacist gunman were read out.
Speakers honored the dead and those who survived the March 15 attacks, including 22 people who remain in hospital, among them a critically injured four-year-old girl.
Wearing a traditional Maori cloak, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was joined by representatives from nearly 60 nations, including her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.
Ardern, who has been widely hailed for her response to the tragedy and received a prolonged standing ovation when she took the stage, praised the way New Zealanders had embraced their devastated Muslim community since the attacks.
“Racism exists, but it is not welcome here,” she said.
“An assault on the freedom of any one of us who practice their faith or religion is not welcome here. Violence and extremism in all its forms is not welcome here.”
The hastily organized service was held amid tight security, with Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirming armed police from Australia were on site to assist their New Zealand counterparts.
The service heard a Muslim invocation, or du’a, and Cat Stevens — the British singer who shunned stardom in the 1970s and became a Muslim, taking the name Yusuf Islam — gave a powerful rendition of his hit song “Peace Train.”
But the most moving speech came from Farid Ahmed, whose wife Husna was killed as she rushed back into a mosque trying to rescue her disabled husband.
Sitting in his wheelchair before the assembled crowd, Ahmed said he forgave the accused gunman, Australian Brenton Tarrant.
“People ask me, ‘why do you forgive someone who has killed your beloved wife?’” he said.
“I can give so many answers... Allah says if we forgive one another he loves us.”
Echoing Ardern’s theme that extremism should not be allowed to breed extremism, Ahmed received a standing ovation when he said he chose peace over anger.
“I don’t want a heavy heart boiling like a volcano with anger, fury and rage — it burns itself and burns its surroundings,” he said.
“I want a heart full of love, care and mercy. This heart does not want any more lives to be lost, any other human to go through the pain I’ve gone through.
“That’s why I am choosing peace and I have forgiven.”
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said the atrocity was “an attack on us all.”
“Those actions were designed to divide us and tear us apart,” she said. “They have instead united us.”
Among the crowd, Azra Chida traveled from Auckland to attend the service, saying she lost two close friends in the attack.
“I have come to see their families and pay respect and visit the patients in the hospital,” she told AFP shortly before the ceremony began.
Local man Bobby Turner said: “I’m here for solidarity. To show that we care.
“It was just such a horrible thing to happen. These people were just going about their business. Prayer is supposed to be about love and peace.”


Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

Muslims attend Friday Prayers at the Great Mosque of Al Azhar in Jakarta, Indonesia, as government eases restrictions amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 5, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 June 2020

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

  • Mosque capacity reduced to half, with health protocols in place
  • Jakarta remains center of the pandemic in Indonesia

JAKARTA: Mosques in Jakarta welcomed congregations for Friday prayers for the first time after an 11-week shutdown due to coronavirus curbs as the Indonesian capital began to ease control measures.

“I am grateful I can perform Friday prayers again after almost three months,” Ilham Roni, a worshipper at Cut Meutia Mosque in Central Jakarta, told Arab News.

“As a Jakarta resident, I have been complying with city regulations. Now that we can pray again, I follow the health protocols by maintaining social distance, wearing a facial mask and washing my hands (before entering the mosque).”

Mosques are opened by a caretaker 30 minutes before prayer starts and are closed 30 minutes after the conclusion of the congregational prayer.

Caretakers at Al I’thisom Mosque in South Jakarta have been preparing since Tuesday, even before Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced on Thursday that the city is extending its COVID-19 restrictions for the third time since measures came into force on April 10.

The capital is easing lockdown curbs in phases, starting with the reopening of places of worship on Friday, although capacity has been halved and strict health protocols put in place.

“We did not know if we would be allowed to reopen the mosque, but we kept preparing to put out markings just in case, and on Thursday we got the confirmation,” one of the mosque caretakers Sumidi, who goes only by one name, told Arab News.

He said the mosque now can only accommodate 400 worshippers out of its normal 1,000 capacity.

Caretakers have put up markings to keep a 1.2-meter distance between worshippers inside the mosque, while in its parking lot, the distance is maintained at 97 cm. Hand-washing facilities have been installed at the entrance.

The governor did not set a fixed date for the extension to end, although the most likely time frame is until the end of June as the city is in a transition mode throughout the month.

Workplaces and businesses with standalone locations can open from June 8, to be followed by non-food retailers in malls and shopping centers from June 15. Recreational parks will be allowed to reopen on June 21.

“Essentially, all activities are allowed to accommodate 50 percent of their normal capacity and by strictly maintaining social distancing measures. The movement of people has to be engineered to meet this criteria,” Baswedan said during a live press conference. “This is the golden rule during the transition phase.”

"If we see a spike in new cases during this phase, the city administration will have to enforce its authority to halt these eased restrictions. It is our ‘emergency brake’ policy,” Baswedan said.

Jakarta remains the center of the pandemic in Indonesia, although infections in the city no longer account for half or more of the national tally, as has been the case since the outbreak was confirmed in Indonesia in early March.

As of June 5, Jakarta accounts for 7,766 cases of infections out of the 29,521 in the national total, with 524 deaths out of 1,770 who have died in the country.

Baswedan said since the introduction of restrictions in mid-March, the city has seen a significant drop in infections and deaths following a peak in mid-April.

But the transition phase depends on the residents’ continued strict compliance with virus-control measures, he said.

“We will evaluate by the end of June. If all indicators are good, we can begin the second phase,” Baswedan said.

“We don’t want to go back to the way it was in the previous month.”