Reflecting on the day the NZ Muslim community gained five million allies

As we mark the second anniversary of the Christchurch Mosque attacks, our UNESCO Aotearoa New Zealand Youth Leaders share their memories of that tragic day, the impact it has had on them and their thoughts on being a Muslim in New Zealand.

Shahin Najak, New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, Special Advisor

Today, Shahin Najak, New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, Special Advisor shares her story.

March 15th 2019 changed everyone across the country. Every Kiwi has a story from that day because it affected us all. It has led to some challenging and difficult conversations about how accepting and diverse New Zealand is and how we approach our understandings of different faiths. No faith comes without issues, and Islam is no different. It’s easy to get swooped in by the negative connotations with the various interpretations and practices of faith. But I assure you, it is a faith of peace, intellect, and beauty.

I don’t think anyone expected an act of hate of that magnitude to take place on New Zealand soil. It felt like watching a scene out of a movie. It didn’t register for me until we could go to Jamatkhana again as all Mosque’s were shut as a precaution. Walking through the carpark and seeing the police car stationed out front caused me to stop in my tracks.

I have always found broaching the Muslim part of my identity rather difficult. If I say I am Muslim, the immediate response is usually “What kind are you? Why don’t you wear a headscarf? How do you feel about the terrorist attacks?” It’s easier omitting that part of my identity at times to avoid difficult conversations.  I know that this is a common thing to do for Muslim youth.  With the reinforcement of tensions across the world from different media outlets, it’s hard to ignore all the negative connotations that come with being a Muslim.

It’s easy to forgot how lucky we are to live in a country in which the government responded to the event quickly and decisively. The families of the victims and the rest of the country were provided with various means of support to help process the events. This isn’t the case for many Muslims around the world. Many still live in fear of persecution from oppressive regimes or showcasing their identity with the risk of being misinterpreted.

Being a Youth Leader is an absolute privilege and being Chair even more so. Part of this privilege means providing a voice to wider youth and sharing their concerns and thoughts with the National Commission. There isn’t a single person I have come across who wasn’t affected by that act of hate in some way. It leaves me with a worry that I am not doing justice to those voices. But that’s the point of having these tough conversations. We fear what we don’t know.

That day the NZ Muslim community gained 5 million allies, if not more. So, we ask that you keep asking yourself the tough questions and keep having difficult conversations. And when you are ready to share your journey, we’ll be here, eager to listen.