New Zealand Law Society - Building a legacy of understanding and aroha

Building a legacy of understanding and aroha

Building a legacy of understanding and aroha

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I first met Dr Mustafa Farouk at the Hamilton Mosque in 2004.

I was a newly minted lawyer, having recently relocated to Hamilton after two years as a Christian missionary in Japan. A chance meeting with a client, Ali Issa, had led to an invitation to attend the Mosque and participate in the breaking of the fast with the Muslim community during Ramadan.

Mustafa was the first person to greet me at the Mosque. He wanted to know my background and soon learnt that I worked for Tom Sutcliffe, a prominent Hamilton lawyer. Mustafa spoke warmly of his involvement with Tom in certain interfaith social initiatives.

That evening began a personal journey of learning, enlightenment and enrichment. Friendships quickly grew, leading to opportunities to engage with the Muslim community at community events, weddings and in their homes.

Our religious differences were inconsequential. Our cultural differences were enriching and even humorous – like the time I phoned Ahmed Ahmed and asked him to help me move a “shed”. Something was lost in translation, since Ahmed came to my property with a knife, looking for the “sheep” he thought I wanted butchered.

It was my privilege to become a de facto lawyer for the Waikato Muslim community. In this unofficial capacity, I learnt of some of the challenges they faced with daily life in New Zealand. In my experience, acts of overt racism were infrequent. However, many Muslims face some type of prejudice on a regular basis, often in the form of unconscious bias.

I’m aware of Muslims being subjected to excessive racial profiling from prominent financial institutions. Even my friend Ali Issa lost his taxi company because the media irresponsibly reported a bogus rape complaint against a Somali taxi driver. No one seemed to care that Ali is from Djibouti, not Somalia. In 2005, the phones simply stopped ringing.

Even as recently as a month ago, I learnt that certain Muslim employees have been prevented from praying in their workplace by middle management.

In my experience, the biggest challenge faced by the Muslim community is not acts of overt racism. Rather, it’s knowing how to engage with the general public. Certain outgoing and visionary members of the Muslim community, like Ali and Mustafa, excel at building bridges. However in my experience, many Muslims do not know where to turn, despite their best intentions.

This then leads to the unfair perception that the Muslim community is reclusive. This perception is born of ignorance. It is the same ignorance which, in its most extreme form, led to the unprecedented act of violence against the Muslim community (and all humanity) in Christchurch on 15 March 2019.

Fifteen years after first meeting Mustafa, I saw him speak to media in the immediate aftermath of the Mosque massacres. As President of the Federation of Islamic Associations New Zealand, Mustafa spoke calmly of the impact of the terrorist attacks on the victims and their families. Mustafa’s words were not of anger or blame, although that perhaps would have been understandable in the circumstances.

Instead, Mustafa expressed his concern for the impact of the terrorists’ actions on the country we love. He also said that the attacks:

“Do not change my opinion about New Zealand being one of the best places on earth to live, it was just unfortunate that one person decided to commit such an act in this beautiful country.”

Mustafa’s words and actions reflect the words and sentiments of all Muslims I have met. They are peaceful people and proud New Zealanders.

On the night of the Christchurch massacres, our Prime Minister said:

“We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we’re an enclave for extremism, we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things, because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those that share our values, a refuge for those who need it.”

I endorse the Prime Minister’s sentiments. However in my experience, we are sometimes guilty of being an enclave of ignorance. The most extreme, and fortunately infrequent symptom of ignorance is racism. However, more often than not, the ignorance I have encountered is simply a lack of familiarity with, and understanding of, the Muslim community.

In the immediate aftermath of the mosque massacres, the foundations of this ignorance have been shaken to the core. We have witnessed a tremendous outpouring of love, grief and support for the Muslim community. The Muslim community has, in turn, opened its doors physically and metaphorically to the public.

Non-Muslims now have a golden opportunity to build bridges with the Muslim community and to strengthen our relationship with them. We should continue to provide all the support we can, whether it be flowers, financial assistance, or heartfelt messages.

However, the action that will bring about the most lasting change, is the gift of whanaungatanga, a relationship through shared experiences and working together which provides people with a sense of belonging.

When the terrorist entered the Masjid Al Noor Mosque and fired his first rounds in the name of ignorance and racism, I doubt he ever paused to consider that his actions would have the exact opposite effect – that his wanton destruction of human beings because of their religion and ethnicity, would rattle the very ignorance and hatred that he stood for.

I am proud of our response to this tragedy.

We now have an unprecedented opportunity (and responsibility) to extend the hand of friendship to the Muslim community, both in the immediate aftermath of the mosque massacres and in the years to come.

As lawyers, we are in a unique position to lead the bridge building efforts with the Muslim community.

Our individual and collective actions will ensure that the lasting legacy of the 15 March tragedy is not ignorance and hatred, but understanding and aroha.

Samuel Hood, Managing Partner, Norris Ward McKinnon, Hamilton.

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