For Farid Ahmed, today, the third anniversary of the Christchurch terror attack, will start with prayer, then delivering cakes to his neighbourhood, and finish with a visit to the cemetery. All in the name of peace.
“We have to remember the 15th of March with something,” he says. “To me, 15th of March was not about Muslims, it was something about New Zealand. And New Zealand reacted to that, with positivity, with kindness and compassion.”
Ahmed’s wife, Husna, was one of 51 shuhada, or martyrs, who lost their lives in that terrible attack on two city mosques three years ago. A further 40 people were injured, and many witnesses suffered unimaginable trauma.
In the days and weeks after the attack, Ahmed – who uses a wheelchair after being struck by a drink driver and paralysed in 1998 – took the remarkable step of forgiving the gunman, promoting love as a reaction to hate, and gratitude over loss. A calamity met with unity.
“There was one hate in New Zealand and the whole world has seen that one hate was defeated by millions of loves. We had done that once. And let us celebrate this and continue this and that will be good for everyone.”
Another thing he wants to emphasise is the tragedy of the shootings didn’t just afflict Muslim or shuhada families – “it was a tragedy for entire New Zealand”.
“New Zealanders were shocked, they woke up with disbelief that, can some tragic things like this happen in New Zealand, in our peaceful soil? It was an insult on our peaceful image in front of the world.”
The country can heal by taking a positive approach, says the 59-year-old homeopath, whose daughter, Shifa, 18, is in her first year of university. “Let us look at the the blessings we have … If we become thankful, then the heart cannot have room for resentment and blaming.”
Ahmed says Husna isn’t dead but alive – something the Qu’ran says of martyrs – and it’s a temporary departure. “After our death we meet again – so that way, she’s still alive.”
His love for her has grown, as he remembers their cherished moments, and the way she inspired him to study homeopathy, to write, to teach classes at Masjid an-Nur. (He went on to pen Husna’s Story, published two years ago, with profits donated to St John Ambulance.)
“I want to keep her alive through these good works.”
His own healing has come through prayer, the love and support, and keeping busy. That busyness has included a trip to the White House to meet the last United States president, and to collect a peace award in Abu Dhabi.
“I want to listen to [the terrorist]. And if he is willing, I want him to listen to me.” – Farid Ahmed
Happiness is found through three things, Ahmed says: gratitude, humility and forgiveness. After the tragedy, there were piles of flowers and loving messages laid in front of his home, so he’ll show his gratitude today by distributing cakes, and messages of love, around the neighbourhood.
“To me, we should remember 15th of March, not with the sadness, but with the extraordinary reaction that we had. And that was love and compassion.
“Everyone came together to help another human being. So there was a sense of unity among human being, even though we were different, and we are different in many ways.”
Forgiving the gunman gave him huge relief. “It gave me the freedom of moving forward, freedom of embracing with the peace in my mind, and freedom from any anger or resentment.”
There’s nuance in Ahmed’s position.
The terrorist, who’s serving this country’s first sentence of life imprisonment without parole, has said he’ll seek a judicial review of the Royal Commission’s findings, and claimed he was subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment before pleading guilty.
Ahmed keeps to one side the terrorist’s actions – the mass murder, the guilty plea and sentence, his claims from behind bars. It’s not something he wanted to become part of, or interrupt.
But Ahmed’s duty, as an honourable human being, is, he says, to give unconditional love.
He stands by his previous statement he’d like to meet the terrorist, to pass on a message of love. “What he will do with it, it’s up to him.”
He adds: “If I get this chance, then I will feel that I’ll be pleased that at least I have done my duty. I want to listen to him. And if he is willing, I want him to listen to me.”
What has Ahmed learnt about himself in the past three years?
He used to underestimate himself because of his disability. After the shootings he realised he had lots of potential, thanks to a strong and positive mind.
“Initially I thought that it would finish me. But gradually I found out that I got the ability, by the grace of God, to carry the grief better. Every day, it is getting better.”
Before he was relatively lazy, and now he’s much more active. He’s also fearless.
“I decided not to live in fear but to use my life to the fullest degree – and when death comes, it will come.”