At 1.20 pm last Friday someone pretended to shoot me from a passing car. I was walking to the Masjid Jamii in Hamilton to support Muslim members of our New Zealand community during the one week rememberance prayers there after the terrible shootings in Christchurch. I am not a Muslim myself, but as many non-Muslim women were wearing headscarves that day in solidarity with their sisters, I too decided to show solidarity with my Muslim brothers by wearing – just this once – a form of male muslim dress (a thawb cassock from an opshop, woolknit prayer cap, and simple black shoes).
As I walked alone on the footpath against fairly slow moving traffic, one of the occupants of a passing car shouted out “Piaow, piaow, piaow”. As he did so, I turned my head towards him and saw his hand stretched out of the window towards me in the shape of a pistol, with his thumb going up and down with each “piaow”.
I did not feel the fear he probably intended to evoke, but I did feel confused and then deeply disgusted at his behaviour and hoped he hadn’t been doing the same thing to others walking further ahead of me.
I had instinctively looked away when I realised what he was doing, and by the time I looked back the car had gone too far on to identify it, other than having been an older model yellowy orange car with at least three people in it.
It then dawned on me that I (a white New Zealander) had walked less than five minutes – just a few hundred metres – in the shoes of our Muslim community and had already been targetted for abuse.
Not long after, I sat with the rear of the supporters in the park by the mosque. There I heard the Imam call for those worshipping to respond to such abuse with love, not with anger. “Maybe offer them a coffee” he suggested, “New Zealanders love their coffee. Who knows, you might just make a new friend.”
Wise words that raised a ripple of applause among those gathered to show their love and support. But I think we other New Zealanders stand to learn a lot by offering our Muslim brothers and sisters a coffee now and then too. And asking how they are going.