“Already you’ve put my mind at rest because you’re two likeable fellas,” said Michael Scott, the only person in Blenheim to take up an offer to ‘meet a Muslim’ on Thursday.
“From what I’d heard about Islam and what I’d seen on TV … the majority of the attacks were committed by Islamic terror groups,” he said.
Scott attended the one-off “coffee and cake” session at Figaro’s Cafe to discuss whether the March 15 attacks in Christchurch were rooted in Islamic scripture, he said.
Members of True Islam NZ also walked the streets of Blenheim to answer questions.
Imams Sabah Al-zafar and Mustenser Qamar discussed scripture with Scott, and explained that peace and forgiveness were key pillars of their faith.
Al-zafar said New Zealanders had told him they were surprised Muslims had not been more intent on revenge for the events of March 15.
“We don’t want bloodshed, we’re here to forgive everyone,” he said.
“You don’t see outrage because most Muslims have this understanding that Muslims do not mean war.”
Qamar said their talk in Nelson on Wednesday was attended by nine people, but was also met with hostility by one passer-by who yelled abuse at them. However they were encouraged that a group of teenage girls witnessed this and called out the abuser.
“They actually stopped him and said ‘what you’re doing is wrong’ … these girls turned around to us and said ‘we’re really sorry’,” Qamar said.
“We spoke to them for a while and they were really nice, they apologised for him.”
‘Meet a Muslim’ sessions first started in 2017, after a study found the more people followed the news, the more anti-Islam beliefs they had.
Imams Sabah Al-zafar and Mustenser Qamar are holding “Meet a Muslim” sessions across the country.
Qamar said the intention was to also engage with extremism on both sides, particularly in the lead-up to the anniversary of the mosque shootings.
“We have discussions with Muslims, and also we try to invite people who are being influenced by the Far Right and try to have discussions with them,” he said.
“It was unprecedented, the reaction of New Zealand, and it represents what the majority of Kiwis stand for.”
Al-zafar said the reaction of New Zealand, particularly Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, after the Christchurch attacks, was “amazing”.