Sunday 18 August 2019

Hajj pilgrimage brings hope of healing for New Zealand mosque attack survivors

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is funding the trip to Mecca for 200 survivors and relatives of the victims.

Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca (Amr Nabil/AP)
Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca (Amr Nabil/AP)

By Nick Perry, Associated Press

Two-hundred survivors and relatives from the Christchurch mosque shootings are travelling to the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia this week as guests of King Salman.

The king is paying for their airfare, accommodation and travel costs, a bill that will run over one million US dollars.

Many of those travelling hope the trip will give them a chance to heal.

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Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the Christchurch mosque attacks, poses holding a photo of herself and her brother, in Christchurch, New Zealand (Nick Perry/AP)

An Australian white supremacist has been charged with killing 51 people at two mosques in the March 15 attacks.

The Christchurch shootings have been cited as inspiration by other white supremacists, most recently in an attack in El Paso, Texas, that left 22 people dead.

Among those travelling to the Hajj is 33-year-old Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein, 35, was among those killed at the Al Noor mosque.

I will carry his presence (her brother Hussein) with me the whole time when I'm in Mecca Aya Al-Umari

“We had a very typical sibling relationship,” she said.

“So you have your nagging elder brother, nagging little sister.

“But at the end of the day you love each other, even though you don’t verbally say it.

“But you just telepathically know that.”

She said witnesses and video taken by the gunman indicate her brother stood up to the attacker, allowing others to escape.

“So he fought to the very last minute,” she said.

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Aya Al-Umari wears the T-shirt that her brother, Hussein Al-Umari, 35, teased her about the last time she saw him (Juliet Williams/AP)

“And this is Hussein, in his nature.

“He’s always the type of person who would want to see if there is danger, he’d face it, he wouldn’t escape from it.”

When visiting Mecca, Ms Al-Umari said, she will pray for her parents and herself to have the patience to cope with the loss of Hussein.

She also plans to pray for the other families from her mosque who lost loved ones.

And she says she feels her brother will be with her in Saudi Arabia.

“I will carry his presence with me the whole time when I’m in Mecca,” Ms Al-Umari said.

“He is with us every day. But in the journey, I will feel like he will accompany me.”

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam.

PA Media

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