NZ terror attacks anniversary: A letter to my son – ‘Never be ashamed of your beliefs’

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Al Noor Mosque
Al Noor Mosque ... an open letter for peace and justice. Image: RNZ/NurPhoto

OPEN LETTER: By Mahvash Ikram

Three years on from the Christchurch terror attacks on 15 March 2019, Mahvash Ikram writes an open letter to her young son telling him one day he will learn how the Muslim community was targeted, but that shouldn’t scare him from going to a mosque.


Dear son,

You’re not yet two, but you’ve already been to the mosque several times. You don’t understand what happens there, but you love to copy what everyone does. You already know how to say Allah-o-Akbar, and it has become an essential part of your ever-growing vocabulary.

Some would say Muslims start early with their young and I agree wholeheartedly.

So, here’s your first lesson — never be ashamed of your beliefs.

But, remember your vocabulary also includes salam, which means peace. So, practise your faith in peace.

Not long from now, you will understand the concept of standing in prayer behind the imam.

And that’s when we will take you to the mosque for your first ever Friday prayer, Jummah.

We will most likely go as a family, and maybe a few friends will come along too. I will make a big deal out of it. Mothers are embarrassing in all cultures — especially your mum, just ask your older sister.

A white shirt
We will dress you in new clothes, probably a white shirt that will be a bit tight around your pudgy little tummy. It will no doubt get stained with your favourite lunch, which will be ready for you when you come home.

Soon you will learn Friday prayer is a bit of a celebration for Muslims — clean clothes, a hearty home-cooked meal and lots of people to meet at the mosque. It will be an important part of your social calendar, second only to the two big festival prayers.

I look forward to all of it, except one thing — one day you will learn about the March 15 terrorist attacks.

You will learn someone targeted innocent members of your community for their faith.

Al Noor Mosque
Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch … strewn with flowers and offerings honouring the victims of the terror attack there on 15 March 2019. Image: Alex Perrottet/RNZ

And that’s your second lesson, sometimes you will be treated unkindly for your beliefs. You are not alone, there are other communities that suffer the same fate.

Remember — this has nothing to do with you. You are not responsible for a fault in another person’s head.

Trust me, it will be a rude awakening — just like it was for the rest of our country. It is often called the end of Aotearoa’s innocence. Lots of people, including children, were killed and injured that day.

It still hurts
One of those who died was a three-year-old who went to the mosque with his older brother.

Another child was shot but survived. Lots of children lost their parents too. It still hurts.

Tributes and flowers left outside Al-Noor Mosque in Christchurch after the terror attacks.
Tributes and flowers left outside Al-Noor Mosque in Christchurch after the terror attacks. Image: Isra’a Emhail/RNZ

Most grown-ups around you are trying to make sure something like this never happens again in Aotearoa and around the world.

Sometimes we fail, but we are trying.

Hate is an ugly emotion, too big for one’s body. When it takes over, it makes people cruel. They say and do things that can seriously hurt for a very long time. The worst part is these people don’t even realise how horrible they are.

You will also hear of people who practise your faith, but carry a similar hatred. Stay away from them. They, too, destroy families. Denounce them openly.

People may call you names, they may provoke you to fight back and say your religion teaches violence. It is not true. Ignore them.

Keep this verse of the Quran close to your heart and have patience with what they say and leave them with noble (dignity).

Don’t be scared
Don’t let all of this scare you from going to the mosque.

In fact, when you are a bit older I encourage you to go to all sorts of places of worship, whether it’s a mosque, a temple or a church, you will find tranquility and calm.

Don’t be afraid to know others and learn about their views, it is how we rid the world of hate.

Our religion teaches us to respect all other humans regardless of their faith, race, ethnic origin, gender, or social status.

I understand all this information might make you a bit nervous. It is a lot to take in for a little boy your age. But some grown ups just never got on to it and look at what that’s done.

So, let’s get started. After all, we Muslims do start a bit early with our young.

All my love,

Xoxoxo

Mummy

Mahvash Ikram is on the staff at Radio New Zealand. This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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