At a Mosque After the
New Zealand Attacks
by Robert Winter

I ran into my friend Elias, an Ethiopian Muslim, almost as soon as I reached our floor of the office building. 

“Did you hear the news about New Zealand?”  he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Really bad.”

“Do you want to go to the mosque today?”

It was an invitation I found hard to pass up.  I’d been to the mosque with Elias a couple of times before, out of a mixture of simple curiosity and a desire for some kind of tangible, firsthand knowledge of a religion that’s been in the news a lot lately.  I wouldn’t have presumed to invite myself on the day after a horrific mass shooting, but having been asked, I definitely wanted to see the reaction with my own eyes

As it turned out, logistical issues at mid-day necessitated my driving my own car to the mosque and meeting Elias there.  I’d gone inside by myself on my very first visit, so this wasn’t a big deal in its own right.  Today, though, I wondered if the raw emotions touched off by the attack might produce a situation that was uncomfortable, or even outright confrontational.

I drew in my breath as I pulled into the parking lot of our local Islamic center.  Like a number of newer churches these days, it occupies a non-traditional space, in a mixed commercial and light-industrial center. 

A police SUV sat parked prominently near the entrance to the mosque.   In normal times, its presence might have seemed threatening to the people arriving—possibly some form of surveillance?  But today, I didn’t notice anyone reacting negatively to it.  The intended message seemed to have gotten through:  that our larger community considered them worth protecting.

Once inside, I slipped off my shoes and stashed them in a wall rack, then padded in my sock feet into the main room—about the size of four retail shops, with unadorned white walls on all sides.  The earlier red carpeting had been replaced by something gray, with the slightly-acrid scent typical of new carpets.  Duct tape had been laid down in neat rows to indicate where people should sit.

An anomaly of my knees makes it painful for me to sit in the calves-tucked-under-thighs manner that’s customary in a mosque, so as on previous visits, I chose a spot in the back where I could lean against a wall and extend my legs. 

The flow of new arrivals coming through the door indicated there would be a lot of people in attendance today.  It was a safe bet they were looking for something, but as I scanned their faces, it was far from evident what that might be.