On March 15, 2020 it will be one year since the attack on Al Noor mosque in Christchurch that caused the tragic loss of 51 lives and injury to 49 Muslim New Zealanders.
Last year, we asked young New Zealand Muslim artist Sabah Rahman to create illustrated posters and a poem that spoke to her pain and hope as a Muslim New Zealander. As we remember the victims and survivors of the massacre this year, we’re re-running Sabah’s words and illustrations online. Interview conducted March 2019.
Britomart: You’re part of Auckland’s Muslim community. These events have been shattering for so many New Zealanders. How are you and those close to you feeling, and coping?
Sabah Rahman: It’s never easy to witness the deaths of your brothers and sisters in religion, no matter what country you live in. I think the reality of it is that we’re constantly thinking of those suffering in other countries, some of which most of us fled from.
So, it’s always in the back of our minds; prayer for their safety and prayer for some sort of miracle to end their suffering. The Christchurch attack brought that all forward. You’re hurting for your motherland and alike places, and then in a matter of minutes you’re hurting for your homeland, your neighbours. Your friends. Your family. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt, and sadly I can’t say it’s a foreign feeling.
Yet as the events that followed the attacks started to unfold, I felt a great sense of pride that this is my home. Talk at the dinner table would start in sorrow about what happened but by the evening we would be left teary eyed at stories of love and generosity the wider community had to give. The amount of times I’ve found myself choked up at a message from a friend asking if I’m okay and offering help, or just seeing the outside of mosques adorned with bouquets of flowers and words of love would be too much to count. It’s made coping with Friday’s attack easier in the way that meant we weren’t carrying this pain alone.
Are there attitudinal shifts that you’d also like to see – a greater willingness to take on racism and bias, for example?
I think it starts with calling a spade a spade. It feels a bit like chasing your own tail. People have expressed their views on how this is something that really needs to change, yet here we are, in 2019… Attack after attack holding bloodstained newspapers in our hands titled “Angelic boy…”
It’s old. It’s tired. It’s White Male Privilege.
Over the past few days I’ve seen people breaking down cultural, religious and political walls to be a guiding light in times of turmoil. I’ve seen $8.5 million raised, halal food distributed, tear-wrenching hakas performed, gun laws changed and the erasure of a name. So, I don’t see it to be far-fetched to ask that we continue to nurture all these things that unify us. The only thing you stand to lose when you’re open, progressive and accepting of others is ignorance.
Tell us a little about the illustration and poem you’ve created, and what you wanted to express with them.
“…A crescent moon amongst stars…” – Some would say the crescent moon with a single star is the “symbol” of Islam and I wanted to portray that while also acknowledging that we are also Kiwi. Hence the incorporation of the crescent moon with the four stars from the New Zealand flag. Another alluding element to the unity we’ve held in recent times.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un We belong to Allah and to Allah we shall return.