On March 15, 2019, Dr Hamimah Ahmat’s husband, Zekeriya Tuyan was shot in the chest at the Masjid Al Noor on Deans Avenue in Christchurch. He spent 48 days in hospital fighting for his life before he passed away, becoming the 51st person to die in the Christchurch terror attack. 

She is now the chair of the Sakinah Community Trust, a non-profit started by seven women whose loved ones were killed in the attack. 

They are behind Unity Week, running March 15 to 21, an initiative to remember the lives lost and help build a cohesive society. 

The idea of Unity Week is that everyone can take small actions in their daily lives to build a unified, peaceful society, from having lunch with someone you don’t know, to going to food festivals or workshops.

She spoke to Re: News about the lessons she has personally learnt, and wants to share with others, about how to build peace and unity:

How focussing on unity helps with my grief

I lost my husband, and friends on March 15. My sons, who are now 13 and 8, lost their baba.

Unity Week is not just something that brings healing to us, but it's also hopefully toward healing of the nation.

If this is something that could enable a way to connect to that aroha we experienced at the time of the attack, and another way of reclaiming our lives and connecting our experience to something more powerful and more meaningful, and most importantly to show the good teaching of our faith — that is to repel evil with good — all of this helps with our healing.

That this could contribute to a future where my children and their friends, and their children, could live in a future where they belong, they can be their authentic selves — they don't have to shave off their beards, they don't have to take off their scarves or hijabs, they don't have to change their names to apply for jobs — then this helps me with my healing and my grieving.

And also that thought or that hope that we can leave a legacy for the precious lives that we lost. For anyone impacted with that atrocity, to associate that with something that unites people, that is positive  — that helps with our healing.

Unity Week aims to connect us with that overwhelming outpouring of aroha and compassion that we felt and received following March 15

It’s also a reaction to the racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, and conspiracy theories that have happened since.

We want people to have a reminder of the lessons of March 15. 

We extended our arms and shared hugs — we could have chosen to be divided but we chose to come together. 

That was a challenge for us: to keep the hope, but how do we bring back that aroha that we felt? 

The hope in me has not changed, but it may have waned a little bit.

Just weeks prior to the first-year anniversary of the terror attack, the Human Rights Commission released a report that hate crimes had increased. 

Since the Covid-19 virus broke out, now the racism was towards people who look Chinese - it’s as if March 15 was not enough of a wake up call for people.

It’s important to make supporting unity a daily practice

To be honest, this is simply because haters don't rest.

There is no ‘Hate Week’ or ‘Hate Day’, where everyone is happy all year and then suddenly we have one ‘Hate Day.’ There is a whole industry, a whole Islamophobia industry, a xenophobia industry.

If we have truly learnt from March 15, we all need to make it a conscious decision, a new way of thinking and being, and all this needs daily practice.

When there is hate, when there is racism, we all lose. To practise unity daily, it doesn't cost much.

What people can do in their daily life to support unity

To start with, setting the intention to have an open heart, to see yourself in others. To try and understand perspectives other to yours.

Seek information from credible sources. I don't seek information about Irish people from people in Jamaica - get to know someone different and ask them questions. 

Food is a great connector. Everyone loves to eat, sharing food and understanding the culture or traditions and how the food is prepared.

Go to cultural food festivals or cultural performances, there are many art exhibitions that people can go to, and gatherings or events such as Unity Week.

That's one of the reasons we started Unity Week, because not that many people have that opportunity to interact with Muslims otherwise.

The mosques can only be open to the public a few times a year, so go to an event when it is on

Have lunch with a stranger. Unity Week shouldn't just be something that's in schools, but people in workplaces as well.

How many of us actually sit down and purposefully chat with or have lunch with staff that are not in our circle of friends, or colleagues?

If you can't do that every day or once a month, hopefully once a year this will be an opportunity for you to do that.

It would mean a lot to my husband to see this work

All parents, especially him, would want to see that his boys would grow up to be strong, resilient, flourishing adults who would then be able to contribute back to the country that they live in.

And to be able to do all of that in an environment that accepts that they are different from others.

If he was around, if he was still alive, he would be supporting me every minute in the things I do.

If he had to hand out pamphlets and pin up banners, he would be there. He would be the one under the hot sun, helping to spread this message.

My message to young people

It is critical for the future health of our society that our next generation, our youth, are engaged and organised, and that they develop a culture of concern for their communities. 

We've seen it with the Black Lives Matter marches, but over time things start dissipating. And I fear that our youth are being trapped in their own social media bubble, and that it becomes challenging to develop this consciousness of others. 

So I challenge them to keep that flame going, and to continue to influence systems, to influence the lives that they want for themselves.

Unity Week runs March 15 - 21. You can see a list of events, and ideas for actions you can take on their website, www.unityweek.co.nz 

As told to Re: News journalist Anna Harcourt. This interview has been edited for length.

More stories:

Decolonising romance: Prioritising cultural needs in my relationship

"Hopefully one day soon 'actively decolonising' is a sexy part of everyone’s Tinder bio."

‘Forgiveness is not a tidy grave’: A journey through loss, hope and healing

Three years ago today, Sara Qasem lost her father in the Christchurch terror attacks.

People assume I’m not confident because I wear a hijab. Here’s why that’s wrong

‘The hijab has given me this confidence’