Ambreen Naeem's husband and son were both killed in the March 15 attacks. Photo: Simon Rogers/RNZ

One family outlines its struggles, but strength, after the Christchurch terrorist attack. David Williams reports

Naeem Rashid ran at the Christchurch terrorist at the Al Noor mosque on March 15 last year, saving many lives. Today, his widow, Ambreen Naeem, whose eldest son Talha was also killed in the attack, had a message for their killer in court.

Naeem, 45, said her husband and son died at Al Noor, also known as Masjid An-Nur, trying to save others, an act of bravery that her remaining sons, Abdullah, 20, and a 7-year-old, will always feel honoured for. They gave their lives for the goodness of people, a love of Allah and the Muslim community.

“For myself and my family I feel victorious,” Naeem said in a statement read by a supporter in the Christchurch High Court today, during a sentencing hearing. “He has made us stronger and more positive.”

In a pre-recorded video statement, Abdullah described his father and brother as “the best gifts from God”. “They were there in all my happiness and sadness … I cherish every moment we spent together.”

Rashid was posthumously awarded Pakistan’s highest civilian bravery award, the Nishan-e-Shujaat medal. In the days after the attack, he was praised in Parliament by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

The murders have left a huge void in the lives of Naeem and her two sons. That impact was hard to put into words.

The family emigrated to New Zealand from Pakistan in 2010, and gained residency in 2018. They looked forward to applying for citizenship.

This mural of Naeem Rashid appeared in Avondale not long after the attacks. Photo: Supplied/Paul Walsh

Rashid was completing a doctorate at Lincoln University and planned to teach. He gave up a senior position at an international bank so he could spend more time with his family. Talha, an engineer, was the family’s main breadwinner – though Naeem taught at various business colleges.

Accident Compensation Corporation doesn’t recognise a son as a household’s primary earner, so Naeem isn’t eligible for a benefit. The family’s having to meet its obligations with a fraction of its former income – “it’s incredibly stressful”.

The killer didn’t just kill her breadwinners, but their hard work and countless hours of study and effort, Naeem said.

“I do not think this killer should get any enjoyment in his life anymore.” – Ambreen Naeem

Rashid was supportive, kind, and considerate, a person who made friends with everyone he met, and was often called to guide and counsel friends, family and non-Muslims. He was trusted and held in high regard.

The goal he had for his children was for them to grow up being better people. They would swim, run, bike and tramp together. He loved his family, and spending time with his boys.

Talha, who was 21, was patient. He would look after his 7-year-old brother, read to him, play ball with him, and teach him to be a good person.

Her youngest son doesn’t understand what’s happening, Naeem said. She told him his father and brother were very brave but they’re not coming home – “they were in a better place because they were so very brave”.

Naeem is exhausted, physically and mentally. Her fear means she feels she can’t walk freely in this free society. She hasn’t slept a proper, normal sleep since March 15 last year, and doesn’t think she ever will. It’ll be a lifelong struggle, but she’s working hard to provide for her children.

In his statement, Abdullah said the murders had been devastating, causing damage that will hurt forever. “Sometimes it seems impossible to go on.” But it’s the thought of reuniting with his father and brother, in the highest ranks of heaven, that keeps him going. “And Insha’Allah, we will.”

The attack has made the family want to be even more responsible citizens – unlike the terrorist who, Naeem says, will be reduced to “sitting in his chamber with his evil plans”.

The killer’s actions were inhumane, Naeem said. He was cowardly, only getting strength from his weapons. “I will consider him as a human for Allah.”

Naeem says while the Qur’an teaches there should be an eye for an eye, local laws need to be abided by. Still, he has caused irreparable damage and deserved lifelong punishment. “I do not think this killer should get any enjoyment in his life anymore.”

The terrorist has pleaded guilty to 51 murder charges, 40 charges of attempted murder and one of committing a terrorist act. The judge is expected to pass sentence on Thursday.

David Williams is Newsroom's environment editor, South Island correspondent and investigative writer.

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