At 1.32pm, Tauranga stood still.

Only the sing-song of native birds could be heard as silence fell across a crowd of hundreds which gathered at Tauranga Mosque yesterday.

Schoolchildren, pensioners, politicians, mothers and gang members came together to pay their respects to the Muslim community. Some were cloaked in headscarves, some wore black, others wore patches. Together, the community stood united.

Moments earlier, throngs of people began filling the mosque car park, spilling out on to the lawn and street outside.

Advertisement
Mohammed Amin greats Greazy Dog member Maurice Walker. Photo / Andrew Warner
Mohammed Amin greats Greazy Dog member Maurice Walker. Photo / Andrew Warner

Policemen, armed with large body-length guns, stood guard.

Former Christchurch resident Kirsten Tipuna stood stoic at the mosque gates, dressed in black with a headscarf.

Tipuna moved to Tauranga after the Christchurch earthquakes. She wore a headscarf in a sign of solidarity with the Muslim community but admitted she was worried.

"I'm scared standing out here wearing this. But if they are going to hurt them, then they will have to hurt us. I don't think there's any way to get through this than together."

Tipuna was not alone in her headdress. Countless women wore the same, many of different colours, including Labour MPs Jan Tinetti and Angie Warren-Clark.

Sheldon Hayes wore a headscarf and came to support those who were grieving. She brought her 1-year-old daughter with the hopes she would learn from the experience.

Originally from Australia, Hayes said it was "eye-opening" to see how New Zealand had responded to the tragedy.

"Jacinda Ardern has been incredible. She's led the way with compassion and love."

Two women hug outside Tauranga Mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner
Two women hug outside Tauranga Mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner

Tauranga Girls' College student Taylor Lamont came to show her support with a group of her friends.

"There have been people at school that had been seriously affected by the shootings."

About 1.05pm the wild rumbling of motorcycles erupted and heads turned as about 20 Greazy Dog members rolled up. Leather-clad and patched, members parked on site and mingled.

Heartfelt handshakes, words of support and small gifts were passed from gang members to grieving Muslims.

Greazy Dog Maurice Walker organised men from the gang to tautoko (support) the Muslim community. "We just had to be here, for the support and to be one with them . . . We are here for these beautiful people."

Tauranga Mosque imam Ahmed Ghoneim was the picture of grace as he stood by the mosque gate, welcoming people into the sacred grounds.

He shook hands and hugged those who approached him with their condolences, and offered a kind smile to all.

Despite the tragedy, Ghoneim was positive about the future.

"Everything happens for a reason."

The nation had been brought together through the tragedy and he did not harbour any distrust of people.

He was not surprised hundreds of people had turned up to pay their respects.

Thousands of Tauranga residents were at the mosque. Made with funding from NZ On Air.

"I know New Zealand and I know the people."

As the large crowd continued to grow, the unmistakable call of haka rang out from across the road.

About 50 Tauranga Boys' College students slapped their chests and stomped their feet in a fierce war dance honouring the Muslim community. The spine-tingling haka was met with applause.

Prayers inside Tauranga Mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner
Prayers inside Tauranga Mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner

Tauranga Boys' College student Ben Percy said the haka was to represent the school's brotherhood and show support to the wider community.

Many students at the school had written messages of support through a tribute, consisting of 50 empty chairs for each person who died, placed at the school, he said.

Percy said the shooting had come as a huge shock - he had a half brother who usually prayed at one of the mosques, but he had been running late so missed the shooting.

At 1.32pm, all gathered fell silent. Tui crooned and cicadas chirped in trees overhead as many people quietly wept, pushing away tears that spilled down cheeks.

Hundreds of heads were bowed in respect for those who tragically lost their lives.

Breaking the silence, MC Grayson Ottoway called it "unfortgettable".

Tears continued to fall as Mizan Md Rashed led the call to prayer.

The Muslim men, dressed in cultural clothing, were joined by MPs, councillors and other local men as they filed slowly into the larger building at the mosque, stopping at the entrance to remove their footwear.

Hundreds of people were packed into the small space, bowing their heads to the ground as imam Ahmed Ghoneim led the prayers.

Ghoneim spoke in both English and Arabic, translating his words of unity and support to the mixed crowd.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges spoke of the gun law changes and how, despite the terror, the country was unified more now than ever.

At another building at the rear of the mosque, women adorned with hijabs slipped off their shoes and spilled on to mats covering the concrete outside to join their sisters in prayer.

Returning to the mosque after spending the past years in Auckland was Roshnie Khan, who felt an overwhelming sense of safety as she prayed.

"I used to come here a lot when I was younger and there was never anyone who came here especially the ladies section, it was just my family because the Muslim community at the time was small.

"The prayer in itself was a different feeling, knowing you had non-Muslims beside you supporting that."

She was grateful for the respect shown.

In between thankful hugs with the community, Iffah Shawal shared she had tears streaming down her face when she saw the number of people standing around the mosque.

Holidaying from Malaysia, Shawal had come at a terrifying time but said she wishes she never had to leave.

"This is the first country I really like. It is united and you care for each other's feelings.

"No matter your religion, you really care for each other. This is the first time ever I have been to another country which is very calm and peaceful."

Standing guard outside was Joy Ngātoko, with her cousin and niece, who said it was important to show support for a community that had gone through a huge loss.

"It has happened here in our country, so for me, it is all about aroha."

The three women were proudly wearing hijab, which Ngātoko said was an easy decision to make.

"In our Māori culture, we wear black scarves when we are in mourning so we can truly identify with that.

"It's out of respect."

After the service, a sense of calm spread through the grounds as the women and men completed their prayers.

As they gathered for refreshments, the heavy air of reverence was broken. There were more smiles between people and a few bursts of gentle laughter.

Platters of lollies, and fruit paired with samosas and juice were passed through the hordes of people from a community that could only say thank you after a week of heartache.

Dede Dudley said it was a gesture from the Shakti organisation, which works with Tauranga Women's Refuge. She was joined by young children who helped move the sweets around the crowd, including 7-year-old Chelsea Webster.

Dudley said Chelsea was, like her, Muslim and wanted to do something nice for the community which had been so supportive she said.

"She's Indonesian. We are Muslim. We are just helping out and providing fruit and lollies. Everyone from the mosque brought chocolates to say 'thank you'."

A Muslim admitted after the prayers he virtually broke down in tears to see the number of people standing inside and outside the mosque gates in support.

"I'm a strong man and I've had to deal with a lot in my personal life but this, this brought me to tears. My voice is still trembling.

"This is no place in the world like this. What happened happened, but the focus is now on how the people are coming to support [us]. That's a good thing."