25 Jun 2019

Good samaritans step up to help secure mosque

2:30 pm on 25 June 2019

Good samaritans have stepped up to install security doors, top of the line CCTV, and fix electrical issues at Dunedin's Al Huda Mosque.

Flowers and candles were left outside Dunedin's Al Huda mosque this morning.

Flowers left outside the Dunedin mosque after the Christchurch shootings. Photo: Vaughan Elder/ Otago Daily Times

Serious concerns were raised about the security and safety of the mosque following the Christchurch terror attacks. But work is now underway to fix the problems.

Dunedin's Muslim community has known for some time that Al Huda Mosque, in the heart of the city's student quarter, was no longer fit for purpose.

The community has grown and now numbers about 800 people - too many to comfortably fit in the single-level mosque in Clyde Street.

The site is the former home of the Dunedin Orphans Club and was converted into a mosque in December 2000.

But Otago Muslim Association president Mohammed Rizwan said its shortcomings were brought into focus by the events of 15 March.

"Since the incident, obviously there was a big concern in terms of our emergency exits - that we do not have any," he said.

"We've just got one main entry and that's in and out. So Otago Polytehnic actually approached us and offered to help out with the emergency fire exits."

The Christchurch terror attacks caused a deep fear for many in Dunedin's Muslim community as the gunman had singled out Al Huda Mosque as his initial target and it had infrequently been the subject of Islamophobic incidents in the past.

The attacks also reminded those at the mosque of its now missing CCTV system.

The system's hard-drive was stolen during a burglary at the mosque late last year and it had not worked since.

But a local also stepped up to fix that, Mr Rizwan said.

"A really good samaritan from the community has stepped up. He said 'How can I help practicality wise'. We said 'What about CCTV surveillance?' and he said he can help with that - that he knows someone. So straight away on that same day, he gave me a call and said 'I can get that done for you'.

"He said 'Don't worry about the cost - the labour, the materials, it's all donated'."

Members of the polytechnic's design team drew up plans for installing a security door and staircase to an existing but unusable exit, landscaping students pitched in and the Dunedin City Council and local companies helped out with consents, supplies and workers.

Otago Polytechnic's building programmes principal lecturer, Matt Thompson, said getting involved was a no-brainer.

"The thing that really struck me was I was talking to some guys [at Al Huda Mosque] the same age as me and they said 'If it had been our mosque it would've been my dad, whose standing over there, and my 14-year-old son'. I've got a father and a 14-year-old child and I instantly thought I'd like to get involved in this.

"And there's no much else I can do apart from build, so we thought let's get in and do some building if that's what they need."

Mr Rizwan said the gestures had been huge and meant a lot to the Muslim community.

"It feels great, I mean you feel included," he said.

"As a Muslim you feel like a minority in this country. But the support we got after the incident was really awesome - it was like wow. And the fact that people have stepped up and they've come out - and they've got no link to the mosque at all - and they're coming up and saying 'We want to help out'."

As the city's Muslim population continued to grow, the Otago Muslim Association would have to decide whether to add a second story to the mosque or look at building a second facility to accommodate the community, Mr Rizwan said.

But that was the next step in the mosque's development.