Abdul Aziz, who chased away the terrorist who attacked Linwood Islamic Centre and Al Noor Mosque, has been given the country's highest bravery award.
Aziz, who spoke to RNZ about receiving the New Zealand Cross, was among 10 people recognised today for their courage in relation to the 15 March terror attack, in which 51 people died.
Naeem Rashid, who died in the attack, has been posthumously awarded the New Zealand Cross for his bravery in challenging the gunman at Al Noor Mosque.
In a statement this morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said these people were "selfless and extraordinary".
"They have our deepest respect and gratitude for their actions on that day," Ardern said.
"Each of them put their life on the line to save others. If not for their collective actions, the loss of life could have been even greater," she said.
"We will always remember the 51 [shuhada, martyrs] who died, including one of the recipients, and other victims."
Since the establishment of the New Zealand Bravery Awards in 1999, only two other awards at the level of the New Zealand Cross have been made.
Aziz told Morning Report it felt very good to be receiving the award.
"It means a lot to all our community and all the Muslims and for me too, because all those times we've been the target, and this shows that people are with us.
"It feels good, like you've done something good in your life."
The prime minister said Aziz "displayed great courage and bravery challenging the gunman, with complete disregard for his own safety".
'I didn't even think about it, the danger or anything'
On 15 March 2019, Aziz was at Linwood Islamic Centre for Friday afternoon prayers, with his four sons, when a gunman opened fire from outside and shot someone through a window.
Aziz headed to the door to see what was happening and saw the gunman running back to his car to bring another weapon.
"I didn't even think I had my four kids there," he told Morning Report, "and I just went outside, I just wanted to [know] how to get rid of this person."
While grabbing an Eftpos machine from nearby to defend himself, Aziz yelled and ran after the gunman to chase him away and threw the machine in his direction.
"We could hear the gunfire and I needed something, and with this I could defend myself. That was the only heavy object I could find on the table."
Encountering the gunman face to face, he said he could see anger and hatred in his eyes.
"It feels very hard, and made me very upset. Why as a human being we hate each other that much because of the race, or colour or religion, you know."
Ducking between parked cars along to the rear of the mosque, Aziz saw bodies of worshippers on the ground and a rifle thrown by the gunman.
"To be honest with you, I couldn't even have the time to think about anything, I just wanted to get that guy, that coward."
Despite the rifle being unloaded, Aziz, who had heard more shots being fired in the mosque, took it and made his way back to the front and yelled at the shooter to grab his attention away from the others.
When he saw Aziz carrying the discarded rifle, he dropped his gun and ran to his car.
Aziz chased after him and, while the gunman was sitting in his car, threw the discarded rifle at the window of the car, smashing it.
"I'm always glad I did that, because if I didn't do it, that would be a different story, a lot of our other people would have died, our brothers and sisters."
The gunman drove off, with Aziz continuing to chase him for a time down Linwood Avenue.
"Unfortunately, I couldn't catch him, but thanks to God at least I could chase him away.
"If I didn't do that, we would lose a lot of our other brothers and sister, including myself as well. At that time, I'll be honest with you, I didn't even think about it, the danger or anything."
Seven were killed and five were injured at the Linwood Islamic Centre, and 44 people were killed and 35 injured at Al Noor Mosque, which the gunman had attacked prior to Linwood.
'Me and my sons are so proud of Naeem'
At Al Noor Mosque, Naeem Rashid's actions helped others escape, at the cost of his own life, the prime minister said.
"I want to acknowledge Dr Rashid's wife and family particularly, who will know all too well that his acts that day were a reflection of who he was as a person."
In a statement, widow Ambreen Naeem said she was grateful for the special honour "recognising the bravery of my dear husband".
"Naeem was a brave man, he was kind and loving. He was a true follower of the peaceful faith of Islam, which is the complete code of life.
"Throughout his life, he always put others before him. On 15th March 2019, in those difficult circumstances, knowing the consequences, he tackled hate.
"By doing so he took an eternal life. Today we can't see him, but he has spread his message of peace and love, all over the world. This award is not only for him but for every peace-loving person who stands against hate.
"It's a very emotional time for me, my sons and family. I wish Naeem's mother would be here with me who gave birth and raised such a brave man. Me and my sons are so proud of Naeem."
Dr Rashid and his son were at the mosque on Deans Avenue, awaiting for prayers to start while listening to the Imam speak to the congregation when shortly after the gunman opened fire inside.
As the gunman came down the corridor, shooting people, people fled to the sides of the room and tried to escape through a door and by breaking a small window pane.
While several people were able to escape, others could not because the gunman was firing at them, which caused a bottleneck to develop.
Dr Rashid, who was at the back of this group, saw the terrorist aim toward another large group of men on the other side of the room.
He ran towards the shooter and launched himself at him, grabbing him and knocking him to ground, with a shoulder that had just been shot at.
During this time, Dr Rashid's actions allowed at least seven people to escape through the broken window.
The attacker continued shooting the wounded Dr Rashid, killing him.
In 2019, Dr Rashid was also given Pakistan's highest civilian award for bravery.
Other 2021 bravery awards
Four awards of the New Zealand Bravery Decoration and four of the New Zealand Bravery Medal were also given out today to those involved in helping people in the terror attack and catching the gunman.
- Senior Constables Scott Carmody and Jim Manning were awarded the New Zealand Bravery Decoration for apprehending the gunman.
- Ziyaad Shah was awarded the New Zealand Bravery Decoration. He was shot twice while shielding another worshipper with his body in Al Noor Mosque.
- Liam Beale was awarded the New Zealand Bravery Decoration. He heard gunshots and screams while driving by Al Noor Mosque and stopped to assist victims and divert others away.
- Lance Bradford, Wayne Maley, Mark Miller and Mike Robinson have been awarded the New Zealand Bravery Medal. While the gunman was active in the area, they helped search for victims and moved them to safety.