'I explained I was from New Zealand and burst into tears', says woman who visited S'pore mosque after Christchurch attack

New Zealanders Graeme Merrall (left) and Kim Forrester (right) visited different mosques in Singapore on March 16, 2019, a day after the massacre of 50 people in two Christchurch mosques. PHOTOS: FACEBOOK / MASJID AL-FALAH - ISLAMIC LEARNING & INFORMATION CENTRE, FACEBOOK / CHRISTOPHER DE SOUZA

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - One wanted to make a stand against racism and Islamophobia.

The other came forward out of guilt and shame and burst into tears when she was welcomed with open arms.

Both New Zealanders visited different mosques in Singapore on Saturday (March 16) after the massacre of 50 people in two Christchurch mosques.

Mr Graeme Merrall, 48, a technical specialist in IT sales, visited the Al-Falah Mosque, off Orchard Road, on Saturday, a day after the tragedy in New Zealand shocked the world.

Speaking to The New Paper on Sunday, Mr Merrall, who moved to Singapore just two weeks ago, said he felt it was important to make a stand.

"My brother lives in Christchurch, and I wanted to show solidarity with the Muslims here in Singapore because what happened in New Zealand affects New Zealanders and Muslims globally," he said.

Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, a self-described white supremacist, has been charged with murder over the gun attacks on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre during Friday prayers.

A three-year-old girl was among the dead.

About 34 people are in hospital with injuries including gunshot wounds. A four-year-old girl remains in critical condition.

Although three others were later arrested, Tarrant is now believed to have acted alone.

Posting about Mr Merrall's visit on Facebook, the Al-Falah Mosque said: "In this trying and challenging period, a Kiwi gentleman visited Masjid Al-Falah in a show of solidarity with the Muslim victims and offered his condolences and thoughts.

"He was deeply affected by the tragedy and wanted to express his support for victims in any way he could."

Mr Merrall also presented the mosque with flowers, a New Zealand flag and a handwritten note that said "Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui", which means "Be strong, be brave, be steadfast" in Maori.

He told TNP that New Zealand has traditionally been tolerant.

He said: "People would quickly call out populist 'Trumpolitics'. We have our share of right-wing idiots, but it's not even close to other countries.

"It's a tight-knit country, which is why this event has cut so deeply."

The accused called US President Donald Trump "a symbol of renewed white identity".

Another New Zealander, Mrs Kim Forrester, 47, an educator who has lived here for six years, visited the Al-Huda Mosque in Bukit Timah on Saturday.

She told TNP that she was deeply affected by the attacks, and visited the mosque out of guilt and shame.

"I knocked on the door and they welcomed me," she said.

"I explained I was from New Zealand and burst into tears."

Mrs Forrester "actively, loudly and assertively" condemns the attacks.

"What happened did not occur in my name. There is no place for intolerance in New Zealand and the world," she said. "People in New Zealand are kind and gentle and open, but some of a different race or religion have experienced unwelcoming behaviour there.

"It is my hope that we can open our eyes and stop any and every form of casual or even targeted racism."

Mr Merrall and Mrs Forrester also hit out at Mr Fraser Anning, a senator in Queensland, Australia, for blaming Muslims for the attacks, which he attributed to the "growing fear" of Muslim immigration.

His comment drew condemnation, including from Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, who called it Islamophobic.

"The senator's statement is sickening. It is completely unacceptable. And he issued it when people are grieving," he said.

"Our prayers are with the victims and their families. It is heartbreaking that people praying in a mosque should be mowed down."

President Halimah Yacob said on Facebook that societies must unite against xenophobia.

"Hatred against Muslims and immigrants were the causes for the Christchurch massacre. When things go wrong or not as people desire, it is so easy to blame a community or a group instead of analysing the causes more deeply and finding the right solutions," she said.

"We must stay united and do our utmost to fight against xenophobia and hatred in whatever form."

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