It has been two months since New Zealand came together in solidarity of our brave brothers and sisters who lost their lives to the Christchurch tragedy at Masjid Al-Noor and Linwood Islamic Centre. Till this day, we remember the time when Kiwis of all faiths paid tribute to the victims and showed support to the community in a nationwide reflection.
Credit: @elstranga on Instagram
While Ramadan is a month of spiritual reflection and devotion, we think about our brother and sisters in New Zealand who are supporting each other in this holy month. In our latest Ramadan Around The World series, we chatted with Mr Bilal Slaimankhel, who is based in Auckland, New Zealand, about the different customs and cultures across Muslim communities as well as Ramadan after Christchurch tragedy.
Mr Bilal Slaimankhel with his daughter at Al-Masjid Al-Jamie
Can you describe your first Ramadan in New Zealand?
My first Ramadan in New Zealand was quite a while ago. It was around 1998 when I was eight years old. It was good at that time. It was long hours, and I was still in school.
Are the timings for sahur and iftar very different?
The timings are different during the summer as we would fast for long hours. During the winter, the hours were shorter. The summer in New Zealand does get hot. But not as hot as some other countries in the world. Hence, it doesn't affect me. Fasting in New Zealand is very easy.
Al-Masjid Al-Jamie, also known as Ponsonby Mosque, in Auckland, New Zealand
Is it easy to find iftar meals or spaces offering taraweh prayers?
Yes, it's very easy to find iftar meals here. There are many halal restaurants and centres as well as mosques to pray taraweh.
What are some of the activities the Muslim community in New Zealand does during Ramadan?
During Ramadan, we usually organise many activities at different mosques and places where we have open iftar days every day for Muslims and non-Muslims to join. Men would eat together and women would gather together. At the same time, the police force sergeants and constables would join us as well. A lot of non-Muslims in New Zealand understand what fasting is, and they're interested to know more.
Mr Bilal [second from left] together with New Zealand Police District Commander Naila Hassan [third from left] after terawih prayers at Al-Masjid Al-Jamie
How different is the Ramadan month in New Zealand after the Christchurch tragedy?
It hasn't been much difference since the Christchurch tragedy. The only difference is there are more people coming to the masjid attending prayers, alhamdulillah. We organise daily iftar nights for the public where it's open for non-Muslims to join us.
How are the interactions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities after the tragedy?
The interaction between Muslim and non-Muslims has been amazing. There are many different faiths coming together and talking to each other. It has been awesome sharing different things and talking about life has been amazing. The future looks great.
The iftar celebration at Al-Masjid Al-Jamie
What kind of support have you received from other communities?
The support has been amazing. Many different cultures and religions come together and help our Muslim brothers and sisters. There are also church groups showing their support and offering any sort of help that can be any use of us. In general, support from other communities has been wonderful. The church across the road let us use their car park on a regular basis. We have a really good relationship with them.
How's the Muslim community in New Zealand coping during Ramadan?
So far so good. Some people are still scared, but everyone is in high spirit and living their normal life. Everyone is happy and Ramadan is a month of reflection. To become closer to Allah s.w., more people are coming to the mosque and attend prayers too.
What's the sense of community between Muslims and non-Muslims in New Zealand today?
The Muslim and non-Muslim communities are very close. New Zealand is a small country. Once you meet and greet someone from the neighbourhood, we become friends very quickly. So all we have seen is positivity coming out from the tragedy apart from what happened that day.
Mr Bilal Slaimankhel is a community member of Al-Masjid Al-Jamie (Ponsonby Mosque) in Auckland, New Zealand. Previously, we shared about how this mosque promotes interfaith relations that warmed our hearts.
For the best of Ramadan Around The World series, find more inspiring reads here!