A New Zealand Islamic expert says the Christchurch Muslim community will be facing a challenging task of organising 50 burials for those killed in the mosque shootings.

Deputy police chief Wally Haumaha said on Sunday that the bodies will be returned to loved ones "as quickly as possible". This is likely to be done by Wednesday.

Zain Ali, University of Auckland professional teaching fellow and former head of Islamic Research, says the community was facing "practical, psychological and spiritual" issues.

He said a Facebook post was seeking help from members of its Muslim community with the funerals and burials.


"Under normal circumstances, when a Muslim person passes away, the body is washed usually with family members present and then it is put into a shroud and taken for burial," Ali said.

"The cultural tradition is that this is to happen as quickly as possible, and usually they are buried on the same day."

However, Ali said this would be "impossible" under these circumstances. Cremation of the body is strictly forbidden in Islam.

"This is a small community facing a really big practical issue on how to organise nearly 50 funerals," he said.

University of Auckland Islamic expert Zain Ali. Photo / Jason Oxenham
University of Auckland Islamic expert Zain Ali. Photo / Jason Oxenham

A total of 50 have been confirmed dead following the terrorist shootings yesterday at two Christchurch mosques, including 42 at Masjid Al Noor near Hagley Park, seven at Linwood mosque and one in hospital.

"There is flexibility within the religion to allow for later burials due to circumstances beyond your control," Ali said.

The Islamic Friday congregational prayer, or Jumu'a, is compulsory for post-puberty males, Ali said, which explained why many of the dead were men.

"They would have been fathers, brothers ... and it wouldn't surprise me if most of them are breadwinners for their families," Ali said.

"From my experience in the mosque, usually those in attendance would be people taking time off from work because kids usually are at school."

Hearses wait to be let in by police at the Deans Ave cordon in Christchurch this morning. Photo / Amber Allot
Hearses wait to be let in by police at the Deans Ave cordon in Christchurch this morning. Photo / Amber Allot

However, he said there could have been more than the usual number of children at the mosque on the day of the shooting because there was a climate change protest.

"They may not have gone to school because of the protest and the parents might have taken them along for the prayers during the lunch hour," Ali said.

One 5-year-old was among those critically hurt, and had been flown to Starship Hospital in Auckland.

Ali said with smaller Muslim communities such as in Christchurch, the mosque had a "more family focus".

He said the shooting was shocking, and it felt surreal.

"It's going to be challenging and incredibly traumatic for the Christchurch Muslim community going forward," Ali said.

"Ramadan is coming up, and it's going to be a difficult Ramadan and a difficult Eid where families and the mosque is usually the focal point."

He said the other question facing the community was whether they could even go back into the mosques.

"It's got blood stains everywhere, it's got bodies in there, how will they move beyond this," Ali said.

"So you've got practical issues, psychological issues and spiritual issues of making sense of why this happened, of trust in God and the neighbour and so on."

Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall said the coroner's office was working "as quickly as possible" to return the bodies to families.

"We are very aware in the coronial service of the cultural issues surrounding this and are doing everything we can to manage the process in a culturally appropriate way," she said.