Months after the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, 200 survivors and relatives of the victims performed the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia as guests of King Salman.
This humanitarian gesture by King Salman, part of the Hajj and Umrah program carried out by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance, helped to alleviate the pain in the wake of an attack that killed 51 worshippers during Friday prayers in the New Zealand city.
The invitation was extended after the Saudi ambassador to New Zealand, Abdulrahman Al-Suhaibani, told the families that King Salman was horrified by the attacks and that he would be paying for all the costs.
Al-Suhaibani said that this was the first time the king invited anyone from New Zealand on his annual program to help get people to Hajj. The group also traveled to holy sites in Madinah.
The Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance, Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh, who is the program’s general supervisor, received the New Zealand guests at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah last summer, stressing that this brutal aggression is rejected by all religions.
“My actions when receiving our brothers and sisters from New Zealand represent the respect, love and mercy that Saudis have toward all human beings in the world and not just Muslims.”
Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh
During the reception for the survivors and victims’ families, feelings of joy were mixed with sadness and separation.
Al-Asheikh was overwhelmed by tears after seeing an elderly woman in Makkah walking on crutches, grieving for her husband who was killed in the terrorist attack. He kissed her head and embraced her, touching off a wave of reaction on social media ranging from people supporting this humane gesture to others who condemned it.
In a response via the Al-Arabiya channel, Al-Asheikh said: “We have the hearts of human beings that react to sadness and sorrow. Our Islamic religion taught us to show mercy, compassion and sympathy toward those who witnessed injustice.
“My actions when receiving our brothers and sisters from New Zealand represent the respect, love and mercy that Saudis have toward all human beings in the world and not just Muslims. We carry the message of Islam, a message of love, mercy and kindness. These are the teachings of Islam; this is our true self. We are humans and our hearts are not made of stone.”
Al-Asheikh said that he was not disturbed by the negative responses. “Whoever sympathized with the footage, it shows their good core and their merciful hearts,” he said.