(CNSNews.com) – As New Zealanders marked the one-week anniversary of the worst mass shooting in the country’s history, the state-owned radio and television network broadcast live the Islamic call to prayer, and people were encouraged to wear a headscarf as a “show of solidarity” with the Muslim community.
Both elements of the day’s commemorations stoked controversy.
With the country remembering the 50 Muslims shot dead and dozens hurt in the attack on two Christchurch mosques during Friday prayers, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday that commemoration would include a live broadcast of the call to prayer.
“I know from many there is a desire to show support to the Muslim community as they return to mosques, particularly on Friday,” she told reporters.
“There is also a desire amongst New Zealanders to mark the week that has passed since the terrorist attack. To acknowledge this, there will be a two-minute silence on Friday. We will also broadcast nationally, via TVNZ and Radio New Zealand, the call to prayer.”
Ardern – whose government this week pushed through a ban on “military-style semi-automatics” and assault rifles in response to the shooting – also said in a statement, “How we choose to reflect during the silence will be different for each of us. Everyone should do what feels right for them, wherever they are – at home, at work, at school.”
Early on Friday afternoon, Ardern joined hundreds in a Christchurch park across the road from the mosque where most victims died, for the call to prayer, followed by a reflective silence. The imam of the mosque, Gamal Fouda, thanked the prime minister, first responders, neighbors and ordinary New Zealanders for their support.
“Thank you for your leadership. It has been a lesson for the world’s leaders,” he told Ardern. “Thank you holding our families close, and for honoring us with a simple scarf. Thank you for your words and tears of compassion.”
Earlier, a hastily-organized campaign around the hashtag #headscarfforharmony urged New Zealanders to wear headscarves on Friday.
And not just women; Men were also encouraged to don scarves, “draped over their shoulders or wrapped around their wrist,” the New Zealand Herald reported.
On social media, many in New Zealand and around the world questioned the appropriateness of promoting the Muslim head covering at a time when, for example, Iranian women are being punished for protesting the mandatory wearing of the hijab.
Just last week it was reported that Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who represented women charged for protesting the mandatory wearing of the hijab, had been sentenced to a lengthy prison term and lashes.
“Please don’t wear a #headscarfforharmony in ‘Solidarity’ with Muslim women,” tweeted Asra Nomani, an author and former Georgetown professor who co-founded the Muslim Reform Movement.
“At @freefromhijab we are women from Muslim families who have faced shame, abuse, jailing for wanting to feel the wind in our hair.”
On a feminist discussion group, a user wrote, “The entire country does not have to adjust itself to practices which humiliate, harm, or kill anyone or which considers women and/or children lesser than men.”
Responding to a similar initiative entitled “Scarves in Solidarity,” a Facebook user pointed out that “not all Muslims wear a hijab.”
“For some it is a choice and they choose it to wear it for various reasons, one which includes modesty which is why you will see Muslimas fully covered from head to toe when wearing their hijab,” she wrote. “For others wearing a hijab is not a choice, understand that this represents subordination.”
The poster said a better response would be to befriend Muslim neighbors or volunteer at a mosque.
‘In direct conflicts with my beliefs’
The plan to broadcast the call to prayer was not welcomed by all.
The call, or adhan, begins with the takbir – Allah is greatest – followed by the shahada – “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger.”
Brian Tamaki, the sometimes-controversial pastor of a non-denominational Destiny Church in New Zealand, pushed back.
On Twitter, he accused Ardern of abusing her position by allowing the shahada to be broadcast across the nation, saying the move was offensive to all “true” Christians.
Tamaki came in for some criticism, and in a later statement pointed out that his church has this week been “tirelessly working, supporting and praying on the ground for the victims their families and the Muslim community.”
“We love all people and love our nation of NZ. We will join in with today’s 2 minutes of silence with respect and love to our Muslim brothers and sisters but I will not bow down or agree with the Muslim prayer that is in direct conflict with my beliefs. That is my choice, as it is PM Jacinda Ardern’s choice to remove Christ out of Parliamentary prayer.”
(The parliamentary speaker from Ardern’s center-left Labour Party late last year removed references to Jesus Christ and to the Queen from a prayer said in parliament at the start of each session. The words “Almighty God” were retained.)
Invited to comment about the call to prayer initiative, Humanist New Zealand council member Sara Passmore said communities “are finding ways to show solidarity with the New Zealanders who are Muslim and who have been most closely effected by this act of terrorism. Humanists and other non-religious people are no exception to this.”
She noted that the organization has campaigned against religious instruction in schools and to remove the “compulsory Christian prayer” in parliament, and that it believes that “freedom of religion and belief are fundamental human rights.”
“The white nationalist terrorist attack on New Zealanders who are Muslim is unprecedented. Our national response, which include public symbolic actions like wearing headscarves and the broadcast of the Islamic call to prayer, is a show to our communities that ‘this is not us,’” Passmore said.
“While there are broader debates to be had about secularism, and the role of religion in public life, today we’re finding ways to express our shared national values of tolerance and kindness.”
Following Friday’s shooting, allegedly carried out by a 28-year-old Australian who is facing trial for murder, the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand called on congregations to pray, and suggested the following:
Holy God of mercy and compassion, pour down your embrace and love on all the world. In places of strife, violence, and death.
We pray for the communities in Christchurch. The victims of this horrific tragedy, their families and the whole of New Zealand.
May your grace and power surround us all.
Giving strength and courage in the face of hatred and evil.
In Jesus we pray.