WHILE the bells of St John’s church toll solemnly for the victims of last week’s Christchurch shooting, beneath the spire two faiths will be coming together in a defiant act of hope.
An exhibition of astonishingly intricate and beautiful Islamic papercutting by Pakistani-born Tusic Ahmad has been hung in the Fremantle Anglican church, with the artist saying he was compelled to respond to the atrocity with a message of tolerance between faiths.
Mr Ahmad says he uses the papercuts, which take about four months to complete, to educate people about the Islam’s “real message” of love. Any deviation from that, he says, is a misinterpretation of the Koran.
He believes greater understanding of each others’ faiths will help prevent the spread of extremist views such as those which motivated self-confessed racist Brendan Tarrant, who has been charged with murder over last week’s attack.
“We have seen one side of the coin – the hate – last week, and we should see the other side of the coin which is love,” he said.
Mr Ahmad says his decision to hold an exhibition in a Christian church raised some eyebrows in the Islamic community, but having grown up amidst the intolerance of Pakistan’s religious cauldron, he appreciates the opportunity Australia provides to speak up for brotherly love.
“If I tried this over there, maybe on the second day I would be killed.”
The Christchurch shooting has had a profound effect on his family; he came home last Friday to find his 18-year-old daughter in tears after viewing the graphic live recording of Tarrant’s chilling attack.
Mr Ahmat said it was difficult to find the words to explain to his three children what had happened, but he emphasised the importance of not allowing the attack to generate further division in the community.
“We are all from Adam and Even and now we are brothers and sisters,” he said.
Even so, while most of the friends he crossed path with this week responded with message of support, there have been some exceptions.
“One or two times I also felt some people try to justify what had happened and I moved away from that space,” Mr Ahmad said.
St John’s parish priest Patrick King said the church’s bells would toll 50 times with a minute’s silence in between to mark the dead from Christchurch, while a silent vigil and a small service of remembrance were due to be held yesterday (Friday March 22).
But Rev’d King said prayers were no longer enough.
“There comes a point where God says ‘what are you doing about this?’,” he said.
“In some ways we are all complicit in shaping a society in which something like this can happen.
“The time is long past when we encounter hatred spoken on our streets, and now even more online, that we have to call it out.”
Rev’d King says the church has been open longer this week and there’s been a steady stream of parishioners filing in to seek solace and try to understand how the society they live in could produce such a deadly attack.
“Of all the places in our community, the church is a reasonable place to come in and wrestle with the big questions of life,” he says.
“We have to believe, people of faith and those of no faith, that humanity is better than that.”
by STEVE GRANT