What Difference Does A Year Make? Christchurch Attack Survivors Say Not Much
As New Zealand mourns on the anniversary of the Christchurch mosque attacks, survivors are simply trying to move on with their lives, while some Muslim groups call for collective, global change.
Sunday marks one year since the terror attack that killed 51 people who were praying peacefully inside two Mosques in Christchurch.
With a planned national commemoration service cancelled over coronavirus fears, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Sunday would instead be an opportunity for "every New Zealander to reflect in their own way on the events of a year ago."
'It's not going to be any different'
But for Christchurch survivor Mulki, 19, the anniversary date of the attacks won’t make any difference.
“For me, a year on, two years on, three years on, it’s not going to be any different because it’s literally been every day since,” she said.
“It's been a struggle every day to get back to reality, to get back to normal life.”
The teenager was inside the Masjid An-Nur mosque with her family when the attack began.
“I looked to my left and I just see people starting to stand up and start to panic and this is all happening within seconds, but it felt like time paused as we tried to figure out what the sound was," she said.
Mulki and her mother were in the same room when the shooting began.
She said the pair fled barefoot, leaving all their belongings inside. Only later would they learn that a car they saw outside, with its boot open, was that of the shooter.
She said at the next corner, a stranger from a nearby home opened their door and allowed the pair to hide inside as they watched men from the mosque jump fences over properties.
Mulki’s father was inside the mosque during the shooting. She tried to call her dad a number of times after the attack but he didn't pick up.
He eventually called to ask if they were OK, before quickly shutting the phone.
Mulki later learned he had been shot in the back.
"Luckily, he was under a pile of people," she said.
“Every day after March 15 has involved trying to get back to normal life,” she said when asked about the massacre.
“All of a sudden this kind of shifting to fear and not knowing why or what happened and really just trying to balance the burden of trauma through day to day life, like even going to sleep and waking up.
I think the Mulki on the 14th of March and the Mulki on the 16th of March are completely different people.
“I don’t think I can ever get back to knowing who Mulki on the 14th of March was.”
'I'm Trying To Start Living Again'
Mohammad Shamim Siddiqui 'Sam', was also inside the mosque when the shooting began.
He managed to escape from the main hall and after thinking the shooter had left, he broke through a window to get outside to the car park and call his wife.
As he told her what had happened and warned their son not to come to the mosque, he was shot from behind.
"She said 'are you ok?' I said 'I'm fine, I'm very good', and then the moment I said it, I was shot," he recalled.
"Immediately, I feel down, I dropped my phone then I noticed blood started coming from my sleeve, so I took off my jacket and I saw a big hole."
A year on, Sam -- a taxi driver -- still hasn't been able to work since. In the initial aftermath, his family relied on the support of fellow New Zealanders.
"I'm trying to get to back to the work as soon as possible," he said.
"So that I can start living again, start thinking again, start planning again... We had so many things a year ago... I had hope, but suddenly that hope was cut."
'The Consequences Rippled Out'
Tony ‘Jamaal’ Green, who has taken on the role of spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Canterbury, said there are a number of reasons why many Muslims were not in support of commemoration events on March 15.
Green said in Islam, like in many other religions, there is a strong belief that life doesn’t end after death.
“In fact, everything you do in this life is preparation for the one beyond,” he told 10 daily.
“So whenever we hear of a death the instinctive response of a Muslim is to say ‘Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un' ('To God we belong and to him, we return’).
“You have an acceptance of death which is not morbid. It is not in our practice in Islam to have anniversaries of such in that way.”
Green was not in Christchurch when the massacre unfolded. He was in Singapore and remembers vividly the moment he received messages asking about his family.
For Green, ‘survivor’s guilt’ was something he initially struggled to deal with, after returning to his community of more than 20 years and seeing the “physical and emotional gaps” once filled by friends and community members.
But he has relied on his faith to get him through, accepting it was “not my time and not my place”.
“Some people don’t even get into the world, they are stillborn, others will live to 100. Somewhere in between the two we all have a time,” he said.
“So you accept that on the faith level, but on another level, you feel stupidly impotent that you weren’t there.”
As if being there would’ve made any difference.
Green said in the wake of the tragedy, the community saw “a flood” of people visiting mosques, with one person, for example, travelling from the U.S. to pay respects.
While the number of visitors has now diminished, people continue to leave flowers at the gates.
“The consequence of what has happened here is that the ripple out from the centre of those who were directly killed has gone out across the whole country," Green said.
Mulki and Green both recalled instances where the survivors themselves were left consoling those visiting or hearing their stories, rather than the other way around.
“We have some people in the community who understandably said 'we would just like to shut the door',” Green said.
“We have had people coming by and it’s just ‘click click, click’ [with cameras] and yet we have also seen genuine, sincere outpouring of support and you can’t turn away somebody like that."
'The Christchurch Invitation'
Asked how people can show support, Green said the community was creating what it described as the “Christchurch Invitation” –- the idea of how the world can move on collectively from the tragedy.
“People said after 9/11 ‘this has been a world change’, I don’t think it made any fundamental change,” Green said.
“To move forward, we have an obligation to honour those people that died and we have an obligation, mutually, to try and prevent this thing from going on, because it does go on and on and on too much.”
Mulki said in the year since the tragedy, she has suddenly found herself to be ‘much more visible’, with people coming up to her, speaking to her and asking her questions about her experience and her faith.
It has given her hope for the future.
“I’ve definitely seen the community grow stronger compared to before,” she said.
“But it really sucks to say that it took 51 lives for that to happen.”