Yarralumla Mosque, the day after Christchurch



I don't go to the mosque often. I have probably been to a mosque a handful of times in my adult life. It wasn't part of my upbringing. In fact, I've probably been to church more than I have been to the mosque. Yet after the tragic events that unfolded in Christchurch last week, I felt like I needed to go.

Yarralumla mosqueI wanted to say a prayer and reinforce my faith in light of the hate fuelled attack that resulted in the loss of 49 lives and 37 injured. I went to the Yarralumla Mosque in Canberra (pictured). It was my first time there. When I arrived, a few cars were pulling up and people were climbing out with flowers in their hands.

At the entrance many had gently placed bouquets, some with notes attached. Against the tiled floor, the flowers formed an assortment of colour, symbolising solidarity and shared grief. 

A lady with tears in her eyes asked me if I was Muslim. I told her that I am. She asked it if would it be okay if she came in and said a prayer. 'Of course,' I replied. She knelt down, quietly sobbing, and said a few words. I also knelt and recited a few verses from the Quran. We were complete strangers sharing a unique and emotional moment.

That instant connection and sense of togetherness with other human beings is what mosque attendance and Islamic prayer is all about. That's why people gather at a mosque or places of worship — to feel connected in a disconcerting world.  I have done this also many times at Christian churches and Buddhist temples. For me, all houses of worship can be places of prayer and reflection. 

After I finished my prayer, I sat in the hall and wondered what it would have been like for those who lost their lives in Christchurch — the fear, the screams and echoing shots, those last moments as a merciless assassin methodically massacred them for being Muslims. It was uneasy thinking.

Like many Australians I was diligently following the news and Twitter feeds on Friday, in particular focusing on the kind of language used around the attack. It was reassuring to see that most media outlets were referring to it as terrorism and denouncing Islamophobia.


"The fact that the attack happened closer to home and at the hands of an Australian might be the watershed moment we need. It might finally get people to listen to our pleas advocating against Muslim vilification."


However, some mainstream outlets still put the word terrorist in quotation marks. It was as though the status of such an attack was in doubt. The hypocrisy of right-wing corporate media is nothing new but to see such language gymnastics from supposedly fair-minded outlets raises many questions.

The Middle East has suffered from terrorism for many years. In my parents' country of birth, Lebanon, such mosque attacks became so routine they weren't even reported in Australian. If it was reported, it was rarely called terrorism.

Rather, bombings and attacks on religious places were portrayed as part of the ongoing conflict that has kept the Middle East in chaos for decades. We need to call this hypocrisy out and reaffirm that all lives matter, that terrorism doesn't stop being terrorism based on the colour or creed of its victims.

I doubt that the Australian media would have paid as much attention had this attack taken place in Iraq. The hundreds of thousands of lives lost over the years in the Middle East barely resonate.

Yet the fact that the attack happened closer to home and at the hands of an Australian might be the watershed moment we need in Australian society. It might finally get people to listen to our pleas advocating against Muslim vilification and demonisation. It might lead to better laws and protections.

My reasons for going to the mosque initially were to find solace and comfort in the eyes of God — to reflect on good and evil. As I left, I noticed more Canberrans pulling up and placing flowers at the entrance. Their empathy and sense of decency left me with a resounding and reinvigorated belief in human goodness.

And it happened at an empty mosque in Canberra, which sits next to the Norwegian Embassy — a country that, in 2011, had to find the strength to deal with its own white supremacist terrorist.



Daniel SleimanDaniel Sleiman is a freelance writer and journalist based in Canberra.

Topic tags: Daniel Sleiman, Christchurch attack, Muslims, Islam



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Existing comments

Well said Daniel. My father was named Daniel as is my brother. Sometimes when I am troubled I go and view and soak in the restless ocean. Sympathy and grief cross all religious ideologies. Though I am not a Buddhist I once visited a Buddhist temple in Thailand and felt a huge sense of peace there. We are all troubled and unimaginably embarrassed at this Australian instigated mindless act of callous hatred. It was a political act reminiscent of the Nazis venting their anger at the Jews. Scapegoating a religious sector of the community because of a brainwashed false Fascist belief. New Zealand are our firm friends and family and we support them and you in your sorrow. Thank you for your thoughts.

Francis Armstrong | 18 March 2019  

Many thanks Daniel for a heartfelt and deeply moving article. It's so good to put our fears aside and remind each other that Love is going to triumph in the end.

Dr Marty Rice | 18 March 2019  

Paul Monk's article in the Australian of 18 March 2019 'Shared hatred of fanatics' is an excellent overview of why the recent appalling events in Christchurch occurred and their ramifications. He also points a possible way out of this situation, or at least a way of minimising the effects of white racism and its mirror image, the ideology of Isis, which feed off each other. Both the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and the President of Turkey have condemned the violence and made a plea for religious, cultural and racial tolerance from both supposed 'sides'. The violence your parents saw during the Lebanese Civil War, like the violence in the former Yugoslavia, was not, I believe 'religious violence' per se, but something else exploiting the sectarian divide. This still happens in Christian Northern Ireland. I am no Alim, but I consider anyone killed whilst fulfilling their religious duties, Muslim; Jewish; Christian; Buddhist; Sikh or other to be a martyr of their faith who will reap their reward in Heaven. That, of course, does not assuage the immediate pain of the families involved, nor their immediate material needs, which we can do something about. One of the things my wife and I did was to contribute to a legitimate fund to assist survivors. This is not an overtly 'religious' deed. It is about our common humanity. This is not a 'Muslim' thing. We are all in the same boat. We sink or swim together.

Edward Fido | 18 March 2019  


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