At Christchurch hospital, the founder and chair of the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resource Centre, Ahmed Tani, has not slept for days. His phone won’t stop ringing and family members of the dead and injured approach him outside of the hospital for support.
“I’m frightened and they are frightened,” he tells Guardian Australia. “They never thought something would happen like this and that’s why everyone is still afraid. Some of the community, yes, are frustrated. But the frustration they have is more that they don’t know where to go or what to do at first. Now that’s turning into gratefulness for the great support. The public, the New Zealand society, they have stood up to support [us]. And that has relieved a lot of their frustration.”
Tani has barely had time to grieve the loss of many of his friends. He has been too busy supporting others.
“One of my friends, he had an appointment to come to my office. I was working to help him find housing,” he says. “He passed away. I knew him well. And I feel so sad when I heard that news. He had been in NZ since 1985.”
While interpretation of Islamic law regarding burials varies, burying a person as soon as possible after death is a fundamental principal of Islam, usually no more than 24 hours later. But families have not been given any indication from police as to when bodies will be released to them, and their unease is mounting.
But Tani said most of them did understand: “This situation is different.”
“It is a criminal situation,” he said. “We Muslims have to understand that and they do. When a Muslim dies normally, yes, 24 hours [is ideal for burial]. But this is something different. The community, they have no choice, this is a criminal issue and the government has to check everything. It’s a process. And the government has communicated that process.”
He said that the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, had eased many of the frustrations.
“Jacinda Ardern came to my office,” he said. “She is a wonderful prime minister, very lovely. And parliamentarians. Labour, National, Greens, they are actually uniting to unite us. They are real in understanding us. The leadership, though, of our Jacinda… great and I appreciate that. I will also not forget our wonderful Christchurch city mayor, Leanne Diezel, she stands behind the communities and she is a wonderful leader and mayor of Christchurch. I feel the Christchurch city council stands behind us as well. And then, on top of that, the people. The people are very, very lovely.”