Saturday 23 March 2019

Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: New Zealand

New Zealand, the far esterly country, has always been peaceful and accommodative of people from across the world even belonging to religions other than the majority religion of Christianity. Muslims are a very negligible part of the population, 1-2% and have been there since 1850s when the first Muslim from India came to Cashmere. Thereafter, Muslims have been trickling in but never in large numbers.

The first Islamic organisation in New Zealand, the New Zealand Muslim Association (NZMA), was established in Auckland in 1950. In 1951 the refugee boat SS Goya brought over 60 Muslim men from eastern Europe, including Mazhar Krasniqi who would later serve twice as president of the New Zealand Muslim Association. 

Significant increase in Muslim populations is attributed to the arrival of mainly Indo-Fijians in the 1970s, and later followed by professionals after the first Fiji coup of 1987. In the 1990s many migrants came from the war torn countries like Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq. There are also a significant number of Muslims from Iran who live in New Zealand.
Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, image. © Farrukh, Flickr/ CC

As per 2013 census there were approximately 47,000 Muslims in the country. New Zealand  has a number of mosques in the major centres, and two Islamic schools (Al Madinah and Zayed College for Girls). The Al Noor Mosque in Riccarton, Christchurch, was the world's southernmost mosque until 1999. The majority of New Zealand Muslims are Sunnis but there is a large number of Shias who live in New Zealand, concentrated mainly in Auckland.

The life of people of New Zealand and Muslims has been a beautiful example of peaceful coexistence ever sine and despite concerns of islamophobia in some minds, nothing of the sort ever happened here. Muslims, mostly professionals and well read have been a valuable asset of the Kiwi society and have always been productive. The Muslims from Pakistan have generally been called Pakistani Kiwis and so were others. New Zealand is pretty tolerant from a religious perspective, and has an expectation of religious tolerance. No one particularly cares what religion one believes in, unless someone tries to impose your religious/cultural beliefs on others in some way. Almost 9 out of 10 New Zealanders believe that it is positive to have a diverse society, made up of different religions, cultures and ethnic groups, according to a survey carried out in the country in 2008 by Ward & Masgoret.

The common New Zealanders have generally been talking positively about Muslims being around: 
  • Aaron Alexander, born in Christchurch, live in Wellington, New Zealand's capital city, says: "We are certainly not immune to small-mindedness and bigotry in some places. And certainly fearful and bigoted people are being emboldened here as they are elsewhere in the West. Also, public sentiment is shifting against immigration on the whole, though that is about housing availability and is not about Muslims in particular. I believe that on the whole New Zealand prides itself on being a tolerant, open society. As such, the prevailing attitude regarding Islam would be, at the very least ‘we have no problem with Muslim people and we’ll treat them better than most other places these days’."
  • Andrew Lim, originally from Malaysia, have lived in New Zealand since 2004 says that  Having lived in New Zealand for twelve years, I would say that the country is generally safe and welcoming to immigrants. Auckland has several mosques and the University of Auckland has a large number of Muslim students, mainly from Malaysia, South Asia, and the Middle East. The University also has its own Muslim prayer room and Muslim association. Muslims are the fastest growing religious group in New Zealand with a sixfold increase between 1991 and 2006 alone. However, we do have some elements of Islamophobia in New Zealand society. Not to the same level as in the US and Europe thankfully but still disconcerting for some. There are some anti-Islamic elements in New Zealand like the politician Richard Prosser, the conservative magazine editor Ian Wishart, and the right-wing blogger Cameron Slater but their views on Islam don’t reflect the general public’s views.
  • Jim Schofield, lives in New Zealand is of the view that there is some discrimination and there are occasional anti-Muslim acts, largely limited to graffiti on mosques etc and ‘passive’ discrimination against women with head coverings (i.e. fairly low level - the chances of encountering overt racism/anti-Muslim discrimination is less; the chances of violence or race riots is much lower than for example Australia or the UK). Muslim have been members of Parliament, and there’s a fairly large Muslim population from a huge number of Muslim nations. So there’s a substantial number of Mosques and communities of Muslims around NZ - to me, they’re “fine” - they don’t cause any concern whatsoever to me, and in turn they don’t cause any notable “problems” (to me).
All was going well till a lone white Christian from Australia chose to make a difference. The gory and ghastly terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, namely the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque, that resulted in to death of 50 Muslims and injuring a large number, disturbed the peace and tranquility that always existed in New Zealand. No words can describe the tragedy, but the way the local people reacted to this terrorist act was really moving. People form all walks of life and religion stood behind the Muslims in their hour of grief and displayed a superb unity against terrorism that shattered everyone's hearts.

The massacre showed the rare side of human beings: The spirit to protect others while daring to stand in front of the assailant. A wife from Bangladesh shielded her husband on wheelchair and gave her life in protecting him. A father wrapped around his four years old son to protect him from the spraying bullets and succumbed to his wounds. A Pakistan teacher Naeem Rashid dared the attacker by trying to block his way and lost his life. Life would go on without those fifty who perished, but their memories shall always remain forever.
The New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern instantly rose to the occasion and appeared on the TV with a head covering, a Muslim woman's attire, and strongly condemned the attack. And vowed to ban the automatic and semi automatic weapons which could be used by terrorists. she also went about meeting the families of the victims and assuring them of every possible support they might need. She also announced bearing expenses on the funeral of all those who perished in the terrorist attack.

In a rare display of solidarity with the Muslims, 22nd March was declared as the Wear the Hijab Day to express the love people of New Zealand have for their Muslim community and on Friday everywhere non Muslim women were seen head scarves as a mark of solidarity with Muslim women who lost their relatives.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other New Zealanders joined the Muslims in Hagley Park adjacent to the Al Noor Mosque where most of the victims perished in Christchurch on Friday to listen to the Muslim call to prayer. The call to prayer was also aired on the NZ TV.

The emotions and solidarity shown by the ordinary citizens of the New Zealand to sympathize with the Muslims will go a long way in the hearts of the Muslims living in New Zealand and even all over the world and will always be thankful to them for being with them in their hour of grief and extreme test. While Ardern told the gathering, "New Zealand mourns with you, we are one," the imam of the Al Noor mosque, Gamal Fouda, said in thanking New Zealanders for their support and compassion since the attacks. "We are brokenhearted, but we are not broken, this terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology ... but we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable."

The people of Christchurch are attending funerals of the perished Muslims and coming forward in expressing their grief with the bereaved families. Watch the video below with moving emotional scens:

Author's Note: The data above has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Naeem Rashid: A hero who dared the Christchurch terrorist
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