The solemn sound of the Muslim call to prayer rang through the streets of south-east Shepparton yesterday as more than a hundred people gathered outside the city’s Albanian Moslem Mosque to remember those who died in the Christchurch, New Zealand, shootings a week ago.
After regular 1.30pm Friday prayers at the Acacia St mosque, members of the wider Shepparton community arrived to pay their respects to those affected by the events at two Christchurch mosques when an Australian-born gunmAn killed 50 worshippers and injured 50 more on Friday, March 15.
Yesterday’s crowd, which spilled out on to the street, included state and federal politicians, Muslim worshippers, representatives of other faiths, and ordinary Shepparton men and women, many of whom wore headscarves in solidarity with the Muslim tradition.
Among the crowd were two Tatura women who had once lived near one of the mosques which was attacked. Donna Cockfield and her daughter Pam said they were stunned when they heard of the slaughter. “We were very shocked. We lived behind the mosque — a lot of those people were our neighbours. We’re devastated. It’s not what New Zealand does,” Mrs Cockfield said.
Her daughter clutched a fresh bunch of flowers. “This is to show our respect and show our support,” she said.
Albanian Moslem Society of Shepparton president Enver Sabri said his community felt it was important to offer support to everyone. “The Albanian Muslim community in Shepparton needed to do something to show our respect and honour those who died,” Mr Sabri said.
The crowd stood in the afternoon sun to hear the Albanian mosque’s Imam Bardi say all world faiths shared the same message.
“The message of peace, love, respect, tolerance, mercy, human rights brotherhood and sisterhood is shared by the eastern and western world,” Imam Bardi said.
His words were echoed by Catholic priest Mons Peter Jeffrey, Buddhist representative Sam Atukorala, and Shepparton Interfaith Network executive officer Rev Chris Parnell.
City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Kim O’Keeffe said yesterday’s gathering was a testament to the strength of Shepparton’s multicultural community. “It’s been a very tough week. It’s been painful and my heart goes out to the community in Christchurch. But we are a world community standing as one,” Cr O’Keeffe said.
Earlier, Mr Sabri said he had been stunned by news of the killings. He said despite the terror inflicted on the New Zealand Muslim community, the Shepparton Albanian Moslem community felt safe.
“We’ve always felt safe here. Shepparton is unique in many ways. We are one of the most multicultural communities in Australia. We feel supported here. There are always bad apples in any community, but you just turn your head and walk away”, he said.