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Christchurch Survivor Comforts Mourning Strangers

A simple hug can mean so much at a time of unimaginable grief.

At the growing wall of flowers at Christchurch’s Botanic Gardens, stranger after stranger walked up to a man who generously welcomed their embrace.

He is the Imam of the Linwood Mosque Ibrahim Abdelhalim.

“You’re a better man than I am sir,” one man said to him.

Ibrahim went to the memorial to comfort the people of Christchurch who are struggling to understand how and why someone would choose their city to go on a murderous rampage.

Ibrahim Abdelhalim hugs another mourner.

“This is to show the public, this is to show the world this is the real humanity, this is the real people,” he said.

As he has every week for two years, Ibrahim was leading Friday prayers when evil entered his mosque.

He had just begun reciting the Koran when the first gunshots rang out.

He dropped to the floor, his son with him but his wife was at the back of the mosque. She was shot in the arm and Ibrahim could see she was bleeding. But in those initial moment of terror, there was little he could do.

“My wife was crying, shouting, bleeding at the back,” he said. “She tried to defend other women beside her.”

“It was a very terrible time, very hard and I can’t help them until we are sure he is gone.”

The woman beside Ibrahim’s wife was a close friend but didn’t make it. He said the same bullet that hit his wife struck her friend and killed her.

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His wife underwent surgery and has been released from hospital.

“I still think we are having a very long bad dream. I can’t imagine something like that can happen in the house of God or in this peaceful place New Zealand.”

Christchurch has been Ibrahim’s home for more than two decades.

Ibrahim Abdelhalim spoke to and comforted mourners.

As a leader in the Muslim community, he said he worries about the longer-term impacts of this atrocity, in particular on tourism and the economy.

“Now we will start to have doubt, thinking for the future and maybe something can happen again.”

“This has happened to the Muslim Community here – absolutely. It has affected all New Zealanders, all people who are residents in Christchurch.’’

But when asked about how to tackle others who share the hate and extremist views that fuelled this evil act, Ibrahim showed no anger.

“We need to be patient with them, we need to teach them, we need to educate them because I think these kinds of people have a shortage of understanding of life (and) why they are in this world.”

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“I still feel the majority of human being everywhere, they are good, they are looking for peace, they are looking for unity.”

But he also said there need to be precautions in case someone else manages to go undetected by authorities, as it would appear the mosque shooter did.

“The government and the police, this is my message for them, we need some security for all worshipping places, not only mosques.”