The Muslim world was on Friday March 15, 2019 thrown into grief by the killing of Muslim worshippers in a terrorist attack. At least 50 people were killed and 50 others wounded in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand (NZ), after a gunman opened fire at Muslim worshippers. The two mosques attacked were the Masjid Al Noor in central Christchurch and another one in the suburb of Linwood. It is described as the worst mass shooting in NZ’s history. Women and children were among those killed.
Following the attack, a 28-year-old Australian man, Brenton Tarrant, was arrested and charged with murder. Although three other suspects were arrested along with Tarrant, the police have said he acted alone. An eye-witness account said a gunman dressed in black with a helmet carrying a machine gun came into the back of the mosque and started firing into the people praying there. The suspect was said to have published a racist manifesto on Twitter before the shooting, and thereafter live-streamed his attack on Facebook. “The origins of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European, my philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European,” wrote Tarrant in a 74-page so-called manifesto posted online prior to the attacks.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a press conference that the assault on the mosques appeared to be a well-planned attack even though he was not on the “terrorist” watch list. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that the suspect was an Australian citizen and described him as “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.” The police have begun investigation which is believed to be the largest ever undertaken by the NZ police, involving more than 200 NZ police and experts, as well as investigators from the FBI and the Australian Federal Police.
Muslims in NZ constitute a minority religious affiliation representing about one percent of the total population. Small numbers of Muslim immigrants from South Asia and Eastern Europe settled in NZ from the early 1900s until the 1960s. Large-scale Muslim immigration began in the 1970s with the arrival of Fiji Indians, followed in the 1990s by refugees from various war-torn countries. The first Islamic Centre opened in 1959. Today, there are several mosques and two Islamic schools. The majority of Muslims in NZ are Sunni, with a large minority Shia and some Ahmadi Muslims, who run the largest mosque in the country.
The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) under the leadership of its President General and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, has condemned the attack on two mosques in NZ. The Deputy Secretary-General of the Council, Prof. Salisu Shehu, in a statement slammed “those whose hearts are blotted by hatred and bigotry to the extent that every crime against Muslims is welcome”; citing the Australian Senator Fraser Anning as an example of those who accuse Muslims even when they are the victims. “In all these attacks and others, religious identities of the perpetrators have always been downplayed because those involved are Christians; but when a criminal who bears a Muslim name is involved in a crime, his religion would be dragged into it.” Prof Salisu said.
I absolutely share in Prof. Salisu’s opinion on this provocative profiling of Mslims especially by Western media. He is called “terrorist” when a Muslim is involved in a violent attack. Yet, the same media would not remember such a word when the assailant is a non-Muslim. Instead, they would look for other appellations such as “gunman”, “attacker”, or “rioter” to refer to a non-Muslim terrorist. In a way, Western media’s negative portrayal of Muslims also fuels anger in non-Muslims particularly against minority Muslim populations in Europe and America.
A research conducted in 2017 in which 16,000 New Zealanders were surveyed reveals that highly educated people, including left-wingers, developed anger towards Muslims through imbalanced media materials. The more they listened to or watched the news, the more prejudiced they became. NZ media absorbs content generated and disseminated by US and European news outlets without providing context. The argument is that in the Western media, the focus and emphasis are more on conflicts in the Middle East and other Muslim-majority societies as if violence is an essential part of the life of Muslims and the practice of Islamic religion.
In 2006, two newspapers in New Zealand decided to republish the controversial Danish cartoons “depicting” Muhammad, the last of all the prophets in Islam. The Muslim community in NZ registered its displeasure through press statements and a small peaceful march in Auckland. The editors of the paper said they did not mean offend Muslims with the cartoons and would therefore not apologise. Muslim leaders and the editors held meetings along with Jewish and Christian representatives in Wellington. In the end, the editors refused to apologise; with a pledge to refrain from publishing such offending images again. This is the extent to which non-Muslims in the west could generally be insensitive to the feelings of Muslims.
Unfortunately, Western Islamophobists fail to realise that the more they detest and express hatred against Muslims and Islam, the more such actions earn sympathy, acceptance and popularity for Islam. This divine truth is contained in Qur’an 9:32 wherein Allah (SWT) states “They desire to extinguish Allah’s Light with their mouths, but Allah will not allow; but that His Light should be perfected even though the unbelievers may detest (it)”. The wish of Islamophobists is to put out the light of Truth, which in essence is the practice of Islam from the face of the earth, because they find it “offensive” to them. Thus they humiliate, persecute and kill Muslims to put out the light. Sadly for them, Allah (SWT) only continues to make His Light shine all the brighter in the eyes of men. The more they tyrannise, intimidate and massacre Muslims, the more and more Allah’s Light penetrates the hearts of men.
Those killed by Tarrant are martyrs and are actually not dead. In fact, they live and in a far higher sense than in the life they have left. Allah (SWT) assures in Qur’an 3:169-170 “Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord. They rejoice in the Bounty provided by Allah…” May Allah (SWT) touch the hearts of Islamophobists to realise and appreciate the Truth about Islam, amin.