Preparations are complete in New Zealand for a verdict hearing for the 2019 Christchurch mosque attack.
Brenton Tarrant pleaded guilty in March this year to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge of engaging in a terrorist act.
The and is expected to go on for four days as the court is set to hear victim impact statements before handing down the sentence.
The Muslim community in New Zealand is still healing 17 months after the Al Noor mosque shooting.
“The wound is very deep and healing will be a slow process,” says Sheikh Rafat Najm, a Muslim community leader in New Zealand.
“I flew to Christchurch as soon as I heard of the shooting, and I was in the hospital the next day to visit the victims.
الشيخ رأفت نجم أثناء زيارة أحد مصابي هجوم كرايست تشيرش Source: Supplied
“When I arrived, I found how people gathered near where the attack was committed and around the hospital. They were crying, holding flowers and writing support messages,” he added.
“It was a symbol of unity in New Zealand against extremism and hate.”
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Sheikh Najm was the Imam of Al Noor mosque in Christchurch in the late 90s before he moved to Auckland where he works as the religious counsellor at the Auckland University and teaches Spiritual health and Well-being.
"We met the family of Hajj Dawood who was known for saying 'hello brother' to the shooter at the entrance of the mosque, and he was one of the first people to welcome me into the country when I arrived in Christchurch in 1997,” said Sheikh Najm.
“Meeting the families of the victims was very painful; you can’t imagine what they went through unless you lost someone.”
Sheikh Najm said the last time he went to Al Noor mosque before COVID-19 restrictions, he met someone who was injured in the attack.
"He told me, 'remember when I said after the attack that I will walk in three years, now the doctors are saying this won’t happen'.
“You meet people who lost a part of their body or left with scars that will be with them forever.”
International support poured in from all over the world after the attack in solidarity with the Muslim community in New Zealand.
“We received delegations from Australia, The US, Canada, Europe, Malaysia, and elsewhere to show support.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, second right, gestures as she leaves Friday prayers at Hagley Park in Christchurch Source: AP
“For these many delegations to arrive this quick was a message of support like no other.
“It was a strong message from the prime minister when she wore the headscarf to show solidarity after the attack.”
“The government realised early that this vicious attack from the far-right mandates that the society and the government have to step in to stop the attack on the community.”
'Verdict will not bring closure'
The court hearing was delayed for a month to give time to the families of victims overseas who wished to attend the hearing to make travel arrangements amidst COVID-19.
The Sheikh said while the community has been healing since the attack, the verdict will not provide closure.
“Regardless of the verdict, it won’t close this painful chapter... The government, the society and the Muslim community have to stand together against this hostile spirit of the far right."