New Zealand police officer looks back on Hajj trip one year after Christchurch massacre

New Zealand police officer looks back on Hajj trip one year after Christchurch massacre
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Naila Hassan was born in Britain to a Pakistani father and English mother. Her father, a draftsman, brought the family to New Zealand when she was five. (Supplied)
New Zealand police officer looks back on Hajj trip one year after Christchurch massacre
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Naila Hassan was born in Britain to a Pakistani father and English mother. Her father, a draftsman, brought the family to New Zealand when she was five. (Supplied)
New Zealand police officer looks back on Hajj trip one year after Christchurch massacre
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Naila Hassan was born in Britain to a Pakistani father and English mother. Her father, a draftsman, brought the family to New Zealand when she was five. (Supplied)
New Zealand police officer looks back on Hajj trip one year after Christchurch massacre
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Naila Hassan was born in Britain to a Pakistani father and English mother. Her father, a draftsman, brought the family to New Zealand when she was five. (Supplied)
New Zealand police officer looks back on Hajj trip one year after Christchurch massacre
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Naila Hassan was born in Britain to a Pakistani father and English mother. Her father, a draftsman, brought the family to New Zealand when she was five. (Supplied)
New Zealand police officer looks back on Hajj trip one year after Christchurch massacre
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Naila Hassan was born in Britain to a Pakistani father and English mother. Her father, a draftsman, brought the family to New Zealand when she was five. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 March 2020

New Zealand police officer looks back on Hajj trip one year after Christchurch massacre

New Zealand police officer looks back on Hajj trip one year after Christchurch massacre
  • After the one year anniversary, Naila Hassan, one of the country’s top Muslim officers, reflects on the past year dealing with the aftermath
  • Born in Britain to a Pakistani father and English mother, she moved when she was 5 and found it difficult fitting in as a Muslim

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND: Most New Zealanders would be extremely happy if the current year turns out no worse than the one just gone — but Naila Hassan, on the back of a life-changing trip to Saudi Arabia, is not entirely one of them.

The government in the political capital of this South Pacific nation on Monday announced the country would shortly be entering a four-week lockdown to help thwart the spread of the new coronavirus.

As one of the country’s top Muslim police officers, Superintendent Hassan will also be eying the weeks ahead with professional concern. But she has also spent much of the past 12 months working with survivors of the carnage visited upon fellow Muslims at two Christchurch mosques.

And she still looks back with wonder at her Middle Eastern pilgrimage that came out of it, a career-capping visit to Makkah for last year’s Hajj, leading 200 survivors of the attacks and families of the victims.

The mosque terror attack, which left 51 dead, scores injured and this far-flung nation of five million reeling, came as a profound cultural and professional shock for Hassan, who spent much of 2019 picking up the pieces of the Christchurch massacre. 

“It was a year I would never wish to live again,” she told Arab News, speaking in an exclusive interview shortly before the government’s announced lockdown.

At vigils, memorials and media events, she was to become the most-visible public Muslim face of the country’s police force as it grappled with the aftermath of the mosque terror attack.

Her role was set to continue this month until a number of high-profile commemorative public events around the country were cancelled because of the coronavirus situation. Hassan was booked to speak at one of the major services, in her Auckland hometown.

In addition to the personal horror she experienced over the killings, she would have spoken of initiatives in New Zealand to build better bridges the Muslim community. She would have touched on its more personal aspects, too.

Even as the event changed her public status, it also affected what for a part of her earlier life had been a strictly private faith.

Hassan was born in Britain to a Pakistani father and English mother. Her father, a draftsman, brought the family to New Zealand when she was five.

Growing up in the South Seas, she acknowledges today in a distinctively Kiwi twang, meant being a Muslim played second fiddle to her other activities.  New Zealand in the 1970s was a place to “fit in at all costs.”

Indeed, she admitted, it took the better part of 25 years, she admits ruefully, “to even tell people I was Muslim.”

“It was just one of those things where as a child you want to fit in. You don’t want to be different. You don’t want to be a minority — even as a woman, really, because in my recruitment course of 100 there were just five women.”

Add to that the complexities of fitting into a New Zealand culture in the 1970s when things Muslim were not well understood.

“As a child at school, everybody probably knew we were Muslim because there were certain things we didn’t eat. It was just who we were. That was okay. But as you get older and get your own identity, other pressures come on — and you start to hide it a bit. 

When offered a glass of wine, for example, she would usually decline by saying she was in training for her work as a lifeguard.

It was her activity as a lifeguard on the nation’s abundant (and abundantly dangerous) beaches that also spurred her decision to become a policewoman.

She entered the service at a time when relatively few women officers were visible in the ranks of law enforcement, and the number of Muslims even fewer still.

New Zealand has around 50,000 Muslims, although possibly fewer than that at the moment when foreign fee-paying students who are not in the country leave because of the current pandemic.

Most of the Christchurch victims were also relatively more new to the tranquil island nation that makes much of its culturally easygoing style.

“I was so shaken that it could happen in a place like New Zealand,” Hassan admitted today. 

In a better sense, she was also shaken when Saudi Arabia's King Salman extended an invitation for her to join almost 200 affected New Zealanders to perform Hajj. 

“What a trip!” she said. “Here was something I had heard about all my life — and then I was able to experience it, especially as somebody who had hid it for so many years.”

Today she still worries about her level of safety as a Muslim, even as she celebrates the general response of fellow New Zealanders and the enthusiasm with which her calls for greater tolerance have received. 

In Christchurch, where she worked particularly closely with two affected families, she saw people who previously knew little about Islamic culture made halal-friendly meals for survivors. She felt the hugs and saw the tears from strangers, including nearly $1m New Zealand dollars raised by a Jewish group in the United States. She worked closely with hundreds of colleagues on a project aimed at restoring confidence for local Muslims. 

Hassan naturally still hates the wider circumstances of the past 12 months, and she admits some disappointment that this month’s events didn’t proceed according to plan. But she still draws personal solace by now looking to the future now “as a proud Muslim and today prouder than ever.”


Saudi FM Faisal bin Farhan says Kingdom stresses on significance of bolstering joint Arab action

Saudi FM Faisal bin Farhan says Kingdom stresses on significance of bolstering joint Arab action
Updated 16 min 48 sec ago

Saudi FM Faisal bin Farhan says Kingdom stresses on significance of bolstering joint Arab action

Saudi FM Faisal bin Farhan says Kingdom stresses on significance of bolstering joint Arab action

Saudi FM Faisal bin Farhan says Kingdom stresses on significance of bolstering joint Arab action


Saudi health minister: COVID-19 vaccines will be available at pharmacies for free

Saudi health minister: COVID-19 vaccines will be available at pharmacies for free
Updated 1 min 47 sec ago

Saudi health minister: COVID-19 vaccines will be available at pharmacies for free

Saudi health minister: COVID-19 vaccines will be available at pharmacies for free
  • Part of efforts to expand the ongoing inoculation campaign

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia will provide coronavirus vaccines at pharmacies across the kingdom for free, the country’s Minister of Health Dr. Tawfik Al-Rabiah told Al Arabiya.

This comes as part of efforts to expand the ongoing inoculation campaign and facilitate access to vaccine cites, he added.

More than 100 vaccination facilities have opened around the country since Saudi Arabia began its nationwide vaccination campaign on December 17.

Saudi Arabia’s Food and Drug Authority is currently evaluating a number of COVID-19 vaccines in a bid to expand the vaccination process in various regions of the Kingdom, which are taking place at a high rate.

The Ministry of Health indicated that the vaccines currently approved in Saudi Arabia or those currently being evaluated are approved for use starting from the age of 16 or 18 years.

Saudi Arabia has announced on Tuesday plans to expand vaccination centers across the Kingdom, health spokesman Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said.

However, pregnant women and children will still not be permitted to receive the coronavirus vaccine as further studies have not been completed yet, Al-Aly added.

The Minister of Health also announced that COVID-19 vaccines will be a pre-requisite for health workers participating in the Hajj season 2021.

“A vaccination committee must be formed for the Hajj and Umrah season, on which they have adopted the compulsory reception of the COVID-19 vaccine for participating healthcare workers,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has recently launched drive-through vaccine centers in Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah and Abha. Individuals wishing to receive the jab must first register through the official Sehatty app.

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Preventive measures, Tawakkalna app help slash Madinah COVID-19 cases by 86%

Preventive measures, Tawakkalna app help slash Madinah COVID-19 cases by 86%
Updated 03 March 2021

Preventive measures, Tawakkalna app help slash Madinah COVID-19 cases by 86%

Preventive measures, Tawakkalna app help slash Madinah COVID-19 cases by 86%
  • Tawakkalna was launched last year to help track coronavirus infections

RIYADH: Strict health and safety measures and a dedicated app to stop the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are being hailed for helping to push down the number of virus cases in the Madinah region by more than 86 percent.

Officials said the implementation of precautionary and preventive rules alongside the effective use of Saudi Arabia’s official Ministry of Health-approved Tawakkalna app had been major contributors toward combating the outbreak.

“Digital applications and artificial intelligence proved to be one of the most successful approaches both regionally and globally (in tackling COVID-19),” said ministry spokesman, Dr. Mohammed Al-Abdulaali.

The app was launched last year to help track COVID-19 infections and has since been developed and updated to function as a COVID-19 passport that users produce to confirm their health condition in order to gain access to workplaces, shops, and malls.

In the space of two months, it had played a key role in slowing the spread of the virus in the region, Al-Abdulaali added in report by state news agency SPA.

He pointed out that the Madinah region had been going through a critical period in which the number of infection cases had significantly increased.

“This came as a result of some public negligence in observing the preventive measures and precautions; particularly, the lack of adherence to quarantine in addition to social gatherings,” the SPA report said, adding that this had led to a sharp rise in the number of daily cases, prompting the rollout of the Tawakkalna app.

Following two months of strict enforcement of preventive measures and the promotion of the app, infection rates in Madinah fell significantly.

Al-Abdulaali urged the implementation of preventive measures in all regions as a “collective community response” to fighting COVID-19 and encouraged citizens to use Tabaud, a bluetooth-based app that notifies individuals if they come into contact with other infected people.

The Kingdom vs. COVID-19
How Saudi Arabia acted swiftly and coordinated a global response to fight the coronavirus, preventing a far worse crisis at home and around the world
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Arab coalition destroys Houthi drone fired towards southern Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition destroys Houthi drone fired towards southern Saudi Arabia
Updated 03 March 2021

Arab coalition destroys Houthi drone fired towards southern Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition destroys Houthi drone fired towards southern Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: The Arab coalition fighting the Houthi militants in Yemen said it has destroyed a drone launched by the Iran-backed group towards the southern region of the kingdom, state news agency SPA reported on Wednesday.
“The joint coalition forces were able this morning to intercept and destroy a ‘booby-trapped’ drone launched by the Iranian-backed terrorist Houthi militia in a systematic and deliberate manner to target civilians and civilian objects in the southern region,” the statement said.

 


Saudi cabinet once again condemns attacks on the Kingdom by Houthis

Saudi cabinet once again condemns attacks on the Kingdom by Houthis
Updated 03 March 2021

Saudi cabinet once again condemns attacks on the Kingdom by Houthis

Saudi cabinet once again condemns attacks on the Kingdom by Houthis
  • Ministers also briefed on King Salman’s recent call with US President Joe Biden, and the latest COVID-19 developments

RIYADH: Saudi authorities have again condemned the continuing cross-border attacks on the Kingdom by the Houthi militia in Yemen.

The comments came on Tuesday, during the weekly meeting of the Saudi cabinet chaired by King Salman. The latest Houthi assault took place earlier in the day and left five civilians injured.

“The council appreciated the efficiency of the air-defense system in confronting and thwarting the threats made by the Iran-backed terrorist Houthi militia, and its violations of international laws by launching ballistic missiles and drones at civilians and civilian objects in the Kingdom in a deliberate and systematic manner,” said Minister of Information Majid Al-Qasabi.

The cabinet was also briefed on King Salman’s telephone conversation with US President Joe Biden last Thursday, during which both sides stressed the depth of the relationship between the two countries, and the importance of strengthening the partnership to serve their interests and achieve regional and international security and stability.

The Council of Ministers hailed a second consecutive year of progress made by the Kingdom in the Women, Business and the Law 2021 report recently published by the World Bank Group, which ranked Saudi Arabia among the leading countries in the MENA region for empowerment of women.

Initiatives implemented as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 have helped to support the introduction of legislative reforms designed to enhance and expand the role of women in the economic development of the nation, and make the Kingdom more competitive regionally and globally, the cabinet said.

Ministers were briefed on the latest developments in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and reviewed reports from new vaccination centers that have opened in several regions, Al-Qasabi told the Saudi Press Agency.

The cabinet also congratulated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the successful surgery he underwent last week, wishing him health and wellness.

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