Auckland remembrance service calls for 'love and solidarity' to continue

7:01 pm on 29 March 2019

All Black Sonny Bill Williams has challenged hundreds of people at Auckland's memorial service to reach out to Muslims in their community.

Prayers at the Auckland remembrance service.

Prayers at the Auckland remembrance service. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Hundreds of people gathered at Eden Park for the city's service this afternoon. Among them, hundreds of Muslims from across the city huddled into a prayer room at Eden Park to pray and reflect on the past two weeks.

The Auckland service began with a call to prayer shortly after 1.30pm. In a sermon Sheikh Muhamed Shaakir Ismain said terrorism has no race and creed and he called on New Zealanders of all different cultures to get to know each other better.

Mayor Phil Goff told the crowd the forgiveness shown by Farid Ahmed, a victim of the mosque attack who spoke in Christchurch this morning, took his breath away.

He said people had gathered to reaffirm their commitment to multi-faith and multi-cultural society.

In a sermon, Sheikh Muhamad Shaakir Ismail called on New Zealanders from all cultures to be proactive about trying to understand each other.

"We need to learn about each other from each other, not from the media and what people may think," he said.

"Our mosques, synagogues, churches maraes and religious centres should be funded so that people can come in and learn more about the religion and the people."

Following prayers, they joined the crowd gathered in Eden Park's south stand.

People came from all over Auckland to stand together with the Muslim community, wearing colourful headscarves and green ribbons on their wrists in a show of solidarity.

After prayers, a group of over 50 children from Kingsland's Kowhai Intermediate started the remembrance service with a waiata.

Sonny Bill Williams speaks at the Auckland service.

Sonny Bill Williams speaks at the Auckland service. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

All Black Sonny Bill Williams said while he was saddened by how little people had known about Islam before the tragedy, he was heartened by the compassion and empathy that had been shown since.

"We cannot and will not allow such acts to deter us from loving one another," he said. "And just like in the last couple of weeks, New Zealanders, I want to say let's keep leading the way."

"Let's keep being that light in stormy waters for the rest of the world to see how it's done."

National Muslim Association president Ikhlaq Kashkari asked people to continue to show the love and kindness expressed over the past two weeks in the coming months.

New Zealand music icon Dave Dobbyn closed the service with his anthem, "Welcome Home", leaving Auckland with its heart wide open.

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Ihapera Estepa and Anita Dookia watched the service in Whanganui. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Meanwhile, more than 40 people also gathered in Whanganui today to watch the service, which was being livestreamed in a small theatre at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Resident Anita Dookia has lived in New Zealand for 28 years but is originally from Muritius.

"It has affected me quite a lot actually.. I'm an immigrant. When it happened it really knocked the socks out of me," she said.

"I've lived in England and nothing, there's supremacists everywhere, there's racism everywhere, but to come across here in New Zealand where it is a very peaceful, loving country - I never expected this."

Mrs Dookia has been taking flowers to the local mosque since the shootings claimed 50 lives, and she did the same this morning before attending the viewing.

In the darkened room, people stood up to sing Whakaaria Mai, He Honore and the National Anthem, and clapped after the speeches.

Ihapera Estepa wanted to be with her community to mark the commemoration. "I think it is most important and it shows how connected we are," she said.

"I wondered is it going to show on TV, maybe I should stay at home.

"But I thought no no, come, and be with the community here in Whanganui. I think it is the best thing you can do."

A Wellington Muslim who's been working with victims of the mosque massacre said the National Remembrance Service was a calming experience.

Leila Adam was among about 500 people who gathered in Waitangi Park to watch the broadcast from Christchurch this morning, surrounded by barricades of shipping containers and armed police.

"I was just really pleased this morning, just to be able to go along just as a person from Wellington and sit there and take it all in, I think that was the thing that I liked the most about it, just to be a Wellingtonian and a New Zealander, sitting on the grass and just watching and being part of it with everybody."

Ms Adam, who was in Christchurch to help prepare some victims' bodies for burial, said the atrocity has broken down whatever barriers there were between people.

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