Saudi King invites survivor and victims’ relatives of New Zealand shooting to make holy pilgrimage to the Hajj


They survived the Christchurch terror attacks. In Mecca, they’re finding peace as Hajj pilgrims//CRIMSON TAZVINZWA

(CNN)When 31-year-old Maryam Gul laid eyes on the Kaaba this week, it was a moment of complete peace. The cube-shaped structure, and most sacred shrine of Islam, felt a world away from the Linwood mosque at Christchurch, New Zealand where her mother, father and brother were fatally gunned down earlier this year.

“I thought I am looking at a symbol, a symbol of peace. A symbol of God. He’s here,” Gul told CNN.
Gul is one of 200 people who arrived in Mecca, Saudi Arabia from Christchurch this week to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which began on Friday. They are survivors of the March 2019 terror attacks at two Christchurch mosques as well as the relatives of those who were slain in the shootings.
Fifty-one people were killed in the attack by a white nationalist gunman during Friday prayers.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman extended the invitation to the group for the all-expenses-paid pilgrimage in July. CNN’s interviews with Christchurch pilgrims in Mecca were facilitated by the kingdom’s Center of International Communications.
In a statement published by the official Saudi news agency, Minister for Islamic Affairs Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh said the state-funded trip was part of the kingdom’s efforts to “confront and defeat terrorism and terrorists.” Christchurch survivors and victims’ relatives say the pilgrimage has been a means to healing from the violence that changed their lives.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has invited about 200 victims’ relatives and survivors of the Christchurch massacre to his country for a holy pilgrimage.

The Saudi king is paying for the airfare, accommodation and travel costs, which could cost over $1 million, as they perform hajj, the holy Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

The pilgrimage is required for all able-bodied Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime, with many believers saving for years to make the trip. The annual pilgrimage draws nearly 2 million Muslims from around the world to Mecca and sites around it.


The Saudi ambassador to New Zealand, Abdulrahman Al Suhaibani, said the king invited the survivors and victims’ relatives because he was shocked by the March 15 attack at two mosques by an Australian white supremacist that killed 51 people.

Among those who have accepted the king’s offer was Temel Atacocugu, a 44-year-old kebab shop co-owner, who was seriously scarred by nine bullets shot by the gunman.

Atacocugu was confronted by the gunman face-to-face during the shooting, with the gunman firing a bullet into Atacocugu’s mouth, shattering his jaw.

“And then I said, ‘Oh my God, I am dying.’ When I see he’s shooting, when I see the smoke, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m dying.’ That’s the first thought,” said Atacocugu, adding that he then began protecting his vital organs as the shooter continued to fire bullets at him.

He said that since the tragedy nearly five months ago and extensive recovery efforts, he now feels “reborn” and welcomes the opportunity to express his gratitude to God for being given the chance for a new life when he participates in the hajj.


In this July 31, 2019, photo, Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times during the Christchurch mosque attacks, tries on the clothes he will wear during the Hajj pilgrimage, in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is among 200 survivors and relatives from the Christchurch mosque shootings who are traveling to Saudi Arabia as guests of King Salman for the Hajj pilgrimage, a trip many hope will help them to heal. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

The king typically invites several hundred people each year to perform the hajj as his own guests, often picking those most touched by tragedy that year. The ambassador said this was the first time he invited anyone from New Zealand.

Two weeks ago, the ambassador traveled to Christchurch to hand out the simple white garments the male pilgrims will wear. The terry cloth garments worn by men are meant to strip pilgrims down of adornment and symbolize the equality of mankind before God.

“It’s a wonderful time and this is a golden chance for people to get spiritual elevation,” said Gamal Fouda, the imam at the Al Noor mosque, one of the two mosques that were attacked.

Fouda, who also survived the shootings, said he’s traveling with the group as a spiritual leader. He said the memories of the shooting remain fresh in everybody’s minds and his mosque hasn’t yet returned to normal.

“The most important thing is that the New Zealand community, including Muslims, they stood together against hate,” Fouda says. “And we are still saying that hate is not going to divide us. We will continue to love each other.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Forgiveness, compassion in the age of hate, outrage and President Trump

Protesters march against Trump administration immigration policies in New York City, February 2017. (Reuters photo: Stephanie Keith)

Intentional Faith’s Pastor Hogg’s letter to a follower – AIWA! NO!

I don’t know whether it’s that I’m simply getting older or the world is really an angrier place.

When I use that phrase—“the world”—I’m thinking primarily of the online space in which many of us sort of live and kind of move and have at least a portion of our being. Sure, there are links and blog posts and poems and stories to be found where the syncopation of grief and gladness are a truly magnificent thing. But on the whole, the social media score is one of outrage, an out-of-control violence via words.

What is happening to our country, and our universities? It sometimes seems that everything is coming apart. To understand why, I have found it helpful to think about an idea from cosmology called “the fine-tuned universe.” There are around 20 fundamental constants in physics — things like the speed of light, Newton’s gravitational constant, and the charge of an electron. In the weird world of cosmology, these are constants throughout our universe, but it is thought that some of them could be set to different values in other universes. As physicists have begun to understand our universe, they have noticed that many of these physical constants seem to be set just right to allow matter to condense and life to get started.”


And again, it may be that I’m simply getting older, but who in his right mind wants to listen to that? I remember several years ago a phrase that was making the rounds: “compassion fatigue.”

Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper

It was during that time when everybody and his grandma were advocating for a cause, all legitimately good. But the pleas were so numerous and, honestly, at times overwhelming that it wore folks out.

Forgiveness in the Age of Rage

Normally good-hearted, uber-compassionate people sighed and said, “Too much. I need a break.” People backed off, and a number of organizations floundered for a while.

In a not-exactly-but-somewhat-similar way, that’s what I currently feel in my aging bones. I’ve got outrage fatigue. I need a break. Truth be told, I think we all do.

Sky News taken off the air in New Zealand over Christchurch terror coverage

The Christchurch mosque shootings were two consecutive terrorist mass shootings at Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayers on 15 March 2019. The attacks killed 50 people and injured at least 50. The alleged perpetrator was arrested and charged with murder.

Both the integrity of the investigation and the distress among viewers were cited – AIWA! NO!

Members of a New Zealand biker gang have performed the haka to honour the victims of the mass shootings in Christchurch. Before doing so, the gang’s spokesperson thanked the New Zealand police for their work. Mosques in New Zealand have been inundated with floral tributes and messages of support after the massacre, in which 50 people were killed

SKY New Zealand is a satellite and cable provider, and not part of the more famous Sky News, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. That is an important distinction to note, because SKY has taken Sky News Australia off the air in the country over their coverage of the massacre at two mosques in Christchurch.

SKY tweeted about the reason for their decision on Friday.

The controversy was over Sky News Australia replaying footage from the infamous video streamed by the murderer during the rampage.

New Zealand police advised people not to show the footage in a tweet sent on Thursday. “Police are aware there is extremely distressing footage relating to the incident in Christchurch circulating online,” it read. We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed.”

Nevertheless, News Corp’s Sky News Australia continued showing the footage, which prompted the pulling of the plug.

The above tweet from SKY New Zealand was deleted on Saturday and replaced with a more specific explanation.

A spokesperson for SKY told the New Zealand Herald that the decision was made on behalf of their viewers and the people of New Zealand.

“We made the decision to remove Sky News Australia from our platform while disturbing footage of the shootings was being shown to avoid causing any distress to our viewers,” the spokesperson said. “It will remain off air until we are confident the footage won’t be shared.”

Later, more emphasis was place on the integrity of the investigation, and credited Sky News Australia for prompt cooperation, in a statement to Buzzfeed

“As the live rolling events of the Christchurch shooting unfolded, an editorial decision was made by Sky News Australia to offer sports programming to SKY NZ in place of Sky News Australia’s live feed to ensure any footage or reporting did not compromise the ongoing investigations taking place in New Zealand,” they said. “Sky News Australia acted responsibly and prudently in replacing the service as soon as it was able to early yesterday evening after consulting with SKY NZ management.”

A bit of a story shift over the course of a day or so, in that they removed and replaced their tweet, and their spokespeople offered two different explanations for the basis of the decision, as well as who actually made the decision.