Christchurch couple Saba Khan-Hunt and Tyla Harrison-Hunt were on holiday in Melbourne when they got a text saying a gunman had entered their mosque and begun shooting. Saba’s uncle, Naeem Rashid, threw himself in front of the gunman to save others. Along with 49 others, both he and his son Talha Naeem, Saba’s cousin, were killed in the terror attack.
Tyla himself would have been inside the mosque that Friday afternoon if he wasn’t overseas. As part of our series Rediscovering Aotearoa, we interviewed Saba and Tyla about how the Māori and Muslim community had come together to heal, and the true meaning of aroha.
One year on from the attack, we spoke to them again. They tell us about how the attack has affected them, from being constantly aware of the exit points of every room they go into, to forgiveness and being grateful for coming home safe.
Re: One year on, what has gotten better for Muslim people in New Zealand?
Saba and Tyla: Firstly, the unwavering support of the majority of New Zealand. It's been amazing receiving messages and well-wishes for us and the wider community. Secondly, the average New Zealander is becoming somewhat 'woke' after the attack. People want to know more about Islam, not to convert, but to accept and welcome our whānau from all around the world.
Re: What's gotten worse?
Saba and Tyla: Sometimes, you'll find that the minorities may sometimes have the loudest voice. Whether it gets heard is a different thing. Also, some whānau are still struggling to come to grips with what happened and the trauma can be tough to handle especially seeing that their loved one won't be the warmness beside them every night.
Re: After the attack, what has been the hardest moment for you in the past year?
Tyla: The regret. I really regretted the last moment I had with Uncle Naeem and Talha. I remember I was on the phone walking out of the house, I saw them on the driveway while I went to work. Little did I know that would be the last time I see them.
Saba: Telling Ayaan [Saba’s five year-old cousin, Talha Naeem’s youngest son] that dad and his big bro have gone to Jannah [paradise].
Re: What has been the happiest moment?
Saba and Tyla: Seeing the family smile again, it literally took months to see smiles and having the families back over to visit for dinners and chai.
Re: How has the attack changed you?
Saba: I'm grateful for the small and simple things. Having moments with my family, waking up and seeing Tyla, coming home safe. Feeling closer to Allah. Not taking the small things too seriously.
Tyla: To be completely honest, I'm always looking for exit points, security, people wherever I go. When I go to the mosque I look around a lot. I have also become wary of sounds. Alertness is what I'd call it.
Secondly, forgiveness. Understanding forgiveness is huge. For me, forgiveness isn't about forgetting what has done you wrong. It's about understanding that it has done you wrong and you learn, grow and move on from it positively.
Re: What do you hope for the future?
Saba: More peace and understanding of people. Not just Muslims, of everyone. Acceptance of other people's beliefs.
Tyla: I also believe that peace can happen. Not just for our Muslim whānau, but with our marginalised communities, our indigenous peoples and for all to have a fair go.