• Dr Zain Ali teaches as paper on Islam at the University of Auckland, and is a board member for the Religious Diversity Centre.

The mosque is crammed well past its seating capacity. As I scan the hundreds of faces surrounding me I see Indians, Somalis, Arabs, Indonesians, Europeans, I also see the priests from the church across the road. The majority are Afghans, this is not surprising since we are all gathered to pray for Dr Hashem Slaimankhel.

The congregation is unusually subdued, there is an overwhelming feeling of sadness and loss. There are also some who are tearful. A few days earlier I had been in Paihia for the long weekend, enjoying the sun and surf with my family. I remember checking my Facebook feed and coming across a post by Omar, a really good friend from my school days, who also happens to be Dr Hashem's eldest son.

Omar's Facebook post was made up of only a few lines, his father had died in a bomb blast in the Afghan capital Kabul.


At first, I thought I had misread the message, but the horror of the message quickly set in, it was undeniable – it felt like death itself had grabbed me by the throat.

Dr Hashem was a good bloke, a man with whom I prayed with at the mosque. I had shared meals with him, and had long discussions with him about the quagmire that is Afghan politics. I remember him as a happy person with an easy smile, and he also happened to be a really snappy dresser, sometimes in a suit or in traditional Afghan attire.

There was only one time that I did see him slightly sad, and this was at the end of Ramadan, the fasting month. Usually folks are happy and in a celebratory mood after Ramadan, but Dr Hashem seemed a bit sad – this was out of character.

So I sat next to him in the hall adjacent to the mosque and asked him why looked slightly down. He would tell me that at moments like these he would miss home, his village, his people, who would rush out of their homes with offerings of food at the end of Ramadan.

The imam, or prayer leader, at the mosque was also close to Dr Hashem and spoke of enjoying his company and how Hashem made him feel as though he were part of Slaimankhel family.

There were three things that the imam spoke of during his impromptu eulogy, first that Dr Hashem was a humble person, and there seemed to be no trace of pride or arrogance in the man.

The second thing he spoke of was the inevitability of death. Muslim tradition describes death as a cup, a cup that everyone must one day drink from. Death is also described as a path, a path that we must all walk.

The third thing the imam mentioned was that death was a matter purely in God's hands. That it is God who decides the moment when a person dies.

For those who are not religiously inclined, this God talk is all rather odd. But take a moment to reflect on the thought that God has ultimate power over life and death. Those who kill, think themselves as being powerful and fearsome because of their perceived ability to inflict death.

They may think they serve God, when in reality they want to become gods, all powerful and feared, such is their perverse mindset.

It is also remarkable to see the number of individuals and organisations, ranging from the Police, Auckland Migrant Services and the Human Rights Commission, paying tribute to Dr Hashem and recognising his contribution to the wider community.

I think this bodes well for our future, especially when a former refugee is no longer viewed as an outsider, but as a Kiwi who made a difference.