Gone, but not forgotten: A tragedy in New Zealand

Remembering the lives lost at the Masjid Al Noor mosque


(Safia Ahmed | Warrior Life)

There’s something about death that provides a perspective to the living. I find that ironic. We grieve for the dead even though we will be in the same position one day. Trapped beneath the soil with nothing but the remains of our body to remember our existence.

It was not long ago that I realized how precious life is. A valuable life can be taken away in an instant.

As a Muslim American, I navigate the world through the lessons that shape me and the experiences that define me.

I was only 12 when my grandfather passed away due to Alzheimer’s. My grandmother passed away exactly two years and a month after my grandfather. After their deaths, I had prepared myself for a mental breakdown that never happened. I became a stone, but I found myself keeping a journal to keep track of these events.

Death was a hard topic to write about but as I grew older I took comfort in journaling. I wrote about how my grandfather was my superhero and how my grandmother was my muse. Writing became my specialty as I wrote to cope with the grief. One story I wrote for my high school’s newspaper addressed the Christchurch massacre that occurred in New Zealand.

I never got to see the video of the Christchurch gunman shooting bullets at the innocent Muslims inside the Masjid Al Noor mosque in New Zealand. But I know that the video explicitly showed traumatizing behavior because my mom somehow stumbled upon the video and she couldn’t sleep for weeks.

On March 15, 2019, a gunman walked into the Al Noor mosque in New Zealand with a camera and an ugly motive- to kill. The shooter had filmed the mass homicide from his helmet camera.

That day was a Friday.

Fridays are considered a day of celebration for Muslims. The celebration consists of attending a mosque, listening to a khutbah (Islamic sermon) and praying the Friday prayer.

I don’t recall much of what I did after hearing of the attack. Everything was a blur. I was pissed off to have heard of something so devastating and ridiculous.

Days later, my high school’s Muslim Students Association in Torrance decided to host a memorial in honor of all the lives that were lost that day. The memorial was held during lunchtime. Three speeches were given. All heartbreaking, but hopeful.

“No religion has ever been about hate. No religion will ever be about hate,” one of the speakers said.

One of my high school friends attended the event with me. She’s not Muslim but she felt she should be there supporting the Muslim community.

“I felt good being there, it was different but I liked it. Most people don’t have the chance to hear these things. I believe if more people join as one, less violence would occur in the world,” she told me afterward.

My sister had offered some wise words to me on the day of the memorial. I asked her what she thought about having the memorial and the importance it carried.

“We wanted to recognize those who were killed such as those who were victims to the fear that other people, as well as the man who killed them, felt,” she answered.

At the time I was confused why she was talking about the gunman’s feelings and why it should be considered important. Now that I’m older, I’ve realized it’s important to consider everyone’s feelings. The gunman was a monster, but he was also a human.

That same year, our high school’s MSA and Amnesty International Clubs collaborated to host a memorial for the lives that were lost in the tragedy. We held the memorial at Columbia Park in Torrance. The Cherry Blossom Festival was happening the day we had the memorial and we did get some coverage, however, not as many people showed up so we had a change in scenery.

We set up a table with post-it notes, pens, and pieces of cardboard. So many people came and wrote their condolences on the post-it notes that we barely had any remaining.

They shared their thoughts on the attack, and regardless of the fact that we had not lost a family member as a result of the shooting, they reminded us to stay strong.

That day was a good day.

My fondest memory is when the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, held a memorial to recognize all the lives that were lost and to lend a shoulder to all the grieving families.

Jacinda inspired me. She gave me a perspective on what a world leader should be.

She paid her respects to the Muslim community even though she had the choice not to. She didn’t have to give a speech that day or attend the memorial, but she did and I am so glad that she did.

I was so happy to see her wearing a headscarf out of respect for the Muslim community. I don’t know why but something about seeing non-Muslims wearing a headscarf or simply trying it out of their own choice makes me proud.

There’s so much negativity behind headscarves and whether or not they are forced upon Muslim women. When a queen wants to wear her crown nothing should prevent her from doing so.

The terrorist attack left a mental imprint on my life.

I learned that there are ways to stop these types of violence from occurring. In response to the Christchurch shooting, Jacinda had banned all semi-automatic weapons including assault rifles. I admired her for doing that and I believe this should not only be implemented in New Zealand, but most countries.

Her response made me believe that change is real.

When I wrote the story about the attack, I was able to provide a helping hand and empathize with the families who, like me, were unable to say their goodbyes.

Being a Muslim American has provided a new scope of living. I have to be cautious at all times and carry pepper spray with me everywhere I go. Even so, I am proud that I am a Muslim. Being the person that I am, I don’t take pride in many things except my religion.

The Christchurch terrorist attack served as a wake-up call and a reminder of how short and inconsistent life is. There will be trials that feel impossible to endure but I know that with every hardship comes ease.

Events like this terrorist attack allow journalists to educate people and gain access to the deceased’s history and lifestyle, giving me the opportunity to educate the public on topics that are not generally discussed and offer emotional support to families who have lost loved ones.


Editor’s note: Headline was updated for clarity on June 10, 2022, at 11:30 a.m.