“I feel like I’m wearing it”
Terror in Chch
A survivor of a terrorist attack has a heavy heart ahead of the journey of his life. David Williams Reporting
“This trip is not for me,” says Christchurch terror attack survivor Farid Ahmed, tears flowing. “This invitation came for her.”
Ahmed became world famous for forgiving the Australian gunman who killed his wife, Husna, and 50 other peaceful Muslims praying during the 2019 attack on two Christchurch mosques.
This week, Ahmed, 59, his 18-year-old daughter, Shifa, and Husna’s niece, Farhana Akhter Reju, are among a group of 60 terror attack survivors, victims and their families leaving for Mecca/ Makkah, on a trip paid for by the Saudi government. (Ahmed’s support person for the trip is James Te Paa.)
They undertake the Islamic pilgrimage, the Hajj – which every adult Muslim must do, if they are physically and financially able, at least once in their life.
Ahmed describes mixed feelings from his “weak” and “strong” sides, with the trip sparking memories he tried to push aside.
“My weak side wants to cry because this trip is not for me. This invitation came for her.
“So I feel like I’m wearing her. Every moment of this journey will remind me intensely of her. That’s the sad part.
“This invitation did not come to Farid as Farid, but it came because Husna was gone. So the trip is a reminder of what happened.
Ahmed’s strong side is happy to be able to take Husna’s memory with him during Hajj.
“It’s a spiritual journey, and I can go there and I can thank God for taking her as a martyr,” he says.
“I can sincerely ask God to give him all the best things in the next life. And I can go there and make my promise again – that as long as I’m alive, I’ll do my part to make the world safer, to promote love and not hate, so that another person like Husna doesn’t have to leave like that.”
On March 15, 2019, Ahmed and his wife were praying in different rooms of Masjid an-Nur when the gunfire started. Ahmed, who uses a wheelchair, was able to get out and hide behind his car, but Husna was shot in the back as he returned to the mosque to help her.
Fast forward to today, and part of Ahmed’s emotional reaction is that he thought he would never see Mecca. He has been using a wheelchair since being run over by a drunk driver in Nelson in 1998. Since then he has twice appointed people to be his proxy in Islam’s holiest city.
“I never imagined that I could take this risk of going through all the physical, mental and emotional exertion to do Hajj,” says Ahmed. “My wife wanted to go there several times, it was her dream. But my disability was an obstacle. So I’m happy to be able to try this time and to be able to fulfill his dream.
“I will represent her. I will represent everyone, not in terms of faith because we have a different faith, but in terms of peace and love.
“Because when I was a victim or a survivor to begin with, New Zealanders, they didn’t consider me a Muslim. And it’s amazing. They didn’t look at me because I was born in Bangladesh.
“They looked at me as human and unconditionally they offered me their love. And I would pray for them as I believe, I would pray for them so that they are also loved. The creator must love them, show them mercy .
If Hajj is performed correctly, it is supposed to wipe away the sins of the sincere believer. The minor pilgrimage, undertaken at the entrance to Mecca, is called Omra.
Pilgrims enter Mecca in a state of ritual purity, ihram, and wear ihram garments – two white sheets for men, while women may wear sewn garments.
Perhaps the most famous part of the ritual is walking around the sacred shard, Kaaba, in the Grand Mosque seven times. (Ahmed will not join the crowd at ground level, but rather in the upper levels of the mosque.) Pilgrims also run seven times between Mount Ṣafā and Mount Marwah.
Animal sacrifices are offered, to commemorate Abraham’s sacrifice, at holy sites outside Mecca. In the rajm ritual, pilgrims throw seven stones at three walls, symbolizing the devil, for three successive days, before returning to Mecca for the farewell tawāf, or circumambulation, of Kaaba.
This week’s trip for Ahmed, his family and others follows an offer from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz, who in 2019 ordered the country to take in the families of victims and those injured in the Christchurch terrorist attack, to help with their recovery.
two hundred people went that year.
“A number of the injured were unable to travel due to their injuries or for health and medical reasons,” Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to New Zealand, Abdulrahman Alsuhaibani, said by email.
“The Embassy was unable to assist them in performing Hajj 2020 and 2021 due to the suspension of Hajj due to Covid 19 and border closures.
“This year, 60 people have been nominated to perform the Hajj, and they will travel…to Mecca and represent the latest batch of the King’s initiative to welcome pilgrims from New Zealand under the same scheme, including Farid Ahmed and his daughter.
Newsroom asked Ahmed how he felt about accepting a paid trip from a country criticized internationally for its human rights record.
In his own philosophical way, Ahmed says we live in a world where the days are divided into darkness and light – “so good and so bad”.
“What I do is I appreciate the good and also, I work, as gently as possible, to discourage the bad and, and that’s how we have to work.”
No one is 100% pure, he says, and just because there are imperfections doesn’t mean everything else should be thrown away.
“Whatever opportunity is given to me, I start by appreciating the good side, the good work that any government, any community or any country does. And then, whatever capacity or capacity I have, to advise, to encourage, to improve the weaker areas. That’s what I do.”
During a visit to the White House in July 2019, Ahmed thanked then-US President Donald Trump for his leadership and advocacy for humanity. Comments, it was saidwere typical of his loving and generous nature.
He also chose not to attend the terrorist’s sentencing hearing, saying the shooter was a bigger victim than him – “At least I have peace in my heart. He doesn’t.
Many people around the world know Ahmed, and his story, aided, no doubt, by his book Husna’s story. (In 2019, he accepted a peace prize in Abu Dhabi.)
So how is he? “I’m fine,” he said. “I’m not depressed. I am not negative. And I do more work than before March 15th.
He carries out his volunteer responsibilities: including leading classes at Masjid an-Nur, being a wedding officiant, counselor within the Bangladeshi community in Christchurch, helping families with immigration issues, appearing once a week on an online TV channel, Voice of Islam TV, and, of course, media interviews.
“Besides, I’m a homeopath – I have a clientele – and I’m also a father. I have a daughter to take care of.
He handles all these things, he says. “And that’s an indication that I’m fine and this message to the people who love me, that your love is a blessing to me, and for that blessing, I’m fine.”
Ahmed leaves for Mecca on Wednesday.