/ 19 March 2019

NZ begins releasing bodies to families in Christchurch mosque attack

A pair of flip-flops with a flower sit among the other pairs of painted white shoes
A pair of flip-flops with a flower sit among the other pairs of painted white shoes, laid out at All Souls Church, in memory of the victims of Friday's shooting, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Reuters/Jorge Silva)

Burial and janaza (burial prayers) of the 50 people killed by a gunman in a mass shooting at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, will most likely be held later this week, with the first of the bodies returned to their families on Tuesday.

New Zealand police confirmed on Tuesday that post-mortems have been completed on all 50 victims of the March 15 massacre, with twelve victims identified to the satisfaction of the coroner.

Speaking with Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) leaders on Sunday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged to ensure that the burials would be completed as soon as possible.

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“Whilst the law provides certain requirements of us, that we have absolute set out to officials the urgency of the burial and we understand the urgency of that and what your faith dictates”, she said.

Islamic law dictates that burial should ideally take place within 24 hours of a death, but criminal and legal processes which needed to be carried out prevented religious processes from their burial from being able to take place in this time frame.

On Tuesday, Ardern labelled Brenton Tarrant — the man identified by police as having carried out the massacre — a “terrorist”, saying she will never utter his name. “There is one person at the centre of this terror attack against our Muslim community in New Zealand. He sought many things from this attack — one is notoriety.

“He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless,” Ardern said. “And to others I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.”

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In an update on their Facebook page on Tuesday, FIANZ said the coroners who are working with the bodies of the deceased “are doing absolutely everything in their power to work through their processes as quickly as possible”, with teams from around New Zealand and abroad working to assist with the ghusl, the Islamic washing process that the bodies need to undergo before shrouding and burial. According to a volunteer on the ground, there are eight teams comprising of 5 or 6 people who have experience with ghusl that are working with the bodies. Five of the bodies are being repatriated, and the embalming process has been completed on one body so far.

FIANZ further confirmed that each family affected by the tragedy has been assigned an individual case officer to discuss the release of the deceased.

The police are also working with FIANZ to discuss the reopening of the two mosques where the shootings took place, with an alternative venue for this week’s Friday Jummah prayers yet to be determined.

“The process has been slow, and we’ve just had to be patient”, a volunteer working with the families told the Mail & Guardian. “There is valid frustration on the part of the families because of the delay.”

According to him, some families have expressed that they would prefer that their deceased not have ghusl performed for them, as they believe they were killed as martyrs in Islam.

“It is stressful, but an honour to be a part of assisting with this”, said the volunteer. “When I saw the initial reports, I thought that this was going to be life-changing for me. But there is something to be said about the love and the compassion that we’ve been shown. The Muslim community in New Zealand are like a family. And now, people are really getting to know the Muslims of New Zealand.”