Gamal Fouda was at the pulpit on March 15, 2019, when a terrorist stormed Al Noor mosque and killed dozens of worshippers.
Fouda, the imam at Al Noor mosque, spoke to the High Court on Monday, August 24, being the first of 66 victims to speak at the sentencing proceedings expected to last at least four days.
Standing only a few meters away from the terrorist, the imam told him that the wanton murder achieved the opposite of what he wanted, SBS reported.
“The actions of the terrorist have changed Christchurch and New Zealand,” Fouda said.
“There has been much change within our community but I love New Zealand and our society showed love and support for us.
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“Al Noor Mosque has grown and I believe our community is much more connected with people in Christchurch, New Zealand and worldwide.
“If you have done anything … the community is closer with your evil actions.”
Terrorist Brenton Harrison Tarrant killed 51 Muslim worshippers in March-15 attacks as he targeted Al Noor and Linwood mosques.
The attacks resulted in overwhelming support for the Muslim community as flowers and tributes stretched for hundreds of meters around the two mosques.
Fouda said it “gave power to all of us Muslims and the non-Muslims in New Zealand.”
“New Zealand is seen by the world as a model of compassion, love and harmony … and the terrorist was seen as a criminal,” he added.
Fouda’s testimony was followed by several other victims; some them allowed their statements to be read by victim support officers.
Though the attack was almost one year and a half ago, many victims still feel unshakable trauma.
“I have felt disappointment for not being able to help more people. What happened was so unexpected and I still feel shocked by what I saw,” Khaled Majed Abdel Rauf Alnobani, a witness, said.
“I have not returned to regular work because I am struggling with everyday life.
“My behavior has changed because I have lost some of my friends.
“If I think about everything that happened I am always sad. I’m depressed. I’m frustrated that someone has taken away my happiness.”
Before leaving his station, Alnobani looked towards the terrorist and said, “We have become more united. You have made that. And thank you for that.”
Maysoon Salama, the mother of Ata Elayyan killed at Al Noor mosque, paid an emotional tribute to her slain son.
“His name means a gift from Allah and he was the best gift to us for 33 years,” she said.
“My family and I have been very devastated by the inhumane murder of our precious son.
“Losing my son is like feeling the tight pain of labor again and again.”
Like many, Salama told the terrorist, “May you get the severest punishment for your evil act in this life.”
“You transgressed and you thought you could break us. You failed miserably. We remain stronger in our belief of Islam.”