Mecca. — 200 people arrived in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, from Christchurch, New Zealand, last 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, CNN reports.
Fifty-one people were killed in the attack by a white nationalist gunman during Friday prayers on the 15th of March.
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.
"My feelings are more calm now. I'm more in order. I'm not in chaos anymore," said 31-year-old Maryam Gul. Her mother, father and brother were fatally gunned down earlier this year the Linwood mosque at Christchurch.
A long way from Christchurch
"It was a very special day," said Taj Mohammed, 47, recalling the moment he received the invitation to perform the Hajj. "I am very happy."
Mohammed was shot in the leg three times at the al-Noor mosque in Christchurch. Because of his injury, he must perform the obligatory seven circles of the Kaaba on crutches or in a wheelchair.
He said the spiritual experience has eased his ailments and filled him with gratitude. "
Nearly 2 million pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia for this year's Hajj, according to Saudi authorities.
For Muslim worshippers in New Zealand, some 9,500 miles from Mecca, the journey is especially difficult.
"It's a trip of a lifetime. It's a dream trip. I can't believe I'm here," said Rashid Omar, 51, a Singapore-born electrician from Christchurch.
He is performing duaa' (supplications) for his son, Tariq Omar, 34, who was shot and killed in Christchurch.
"I'm looking for a peace of mind, for my own spiritual way," said Omar. "... I'm really hoping that this will heal myself and my whole family."
Survivors coming together
For the Christchurch group at Mecca, the trip not only offers spiritual healing, but also an opportunity to get together and talk with people who share their tragedy.
They speak not only about their individual struggles and hopes for the future, but even discuss their thoughts on the Christchurch attacker himself.
"I pray for the attacker that somehow he gets the guidance that Islam is not the religion of hate. It's a religion of peace," said Gul. "I can forgive that person. I can really forgive him for what he has done. If he repents."
Apart from the meditations on healing, forgiveness and the afterlife, relatives of the Christchurch victims said they also pray for others, strangers around the world, to be spared the pain of terrorism.
"My main goal is -- apart from fulfilling the fifth pillar of Islam (the Hajj) -- is the supplication, the duaa' that this act of violence and act of terrorism will never happen again anywhere to anybody," said Omar.
"It doesn't matter what race or religion we are. We suffer the same," he added.