Ahmed Ghoneim shed tears as members of the public approached him outside the Tauranga Mosque this afternoon to extend their condolences and offer support.

Shocked city residents had left hundreds of flowers outside the gates of the mosque throughout the weekend.

Ghoneim arrived at the mosque with his young son about 2pm, on Saturday.

Through tears, the Peshiman (prayer leader) offered a kind smile to members of the public who approached him on Saturday to extend their condolences and offer their support.

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He then welcomed those who had assembled outside the mosque inside for a prayer session.

He told the Bay of Plenty Times he was shocked by the attacks in Christchurch and had never felt unsafe in New Zealand.

"The smell of the blood will be there for some time.

People gather outside Tauranga Mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner
People gather outside Tauranga Mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner

"These are my people ... this is the first time in New Zealand history something like this has happened and it is a very sad day for every Kiwi."

He had received a tremendous amount of support from the community, including from National Party leader Simon Bridges.

"Last night the phone didn't stop ringing."

Among those welcomed inside was a group from Bikers Against Child Abuse who rolled up on their motorcycles to the mosque.

Biker Duncan Veitch said the group had been on a charity ride and he had made the call to come and visit the mosque following the horrific attack on Friday.

The atrocity in Christchurch had cut Veitch to the core.

"My heart has been broken ... I cried last night."

"It's just wrong. People can't do this. We all have different opinions, but you don't go killing people."

Once the mosque was opened, Veitch and other bikers peeled off leather boots and removed their helmets to head inside and be present at the prayer session taking place.

Local Muslim Zee Khan at the Mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner
Local Muslim Zee Khan at the Mosque. Photo / Andrew Warner

Zee Khan regularly attended Tauranga Mosque and came to pray on Saturday afternoon.

He knew a 6-year-old girl who had been killed in the attacks. He had recently seen the girl at a gathering and found it surreal that she had now died.

He had never felt uneasy in the 22 years his family had been based in Tauranga.

There had been some "push-back" early on as there were not many Muslims in Tauranga at that point, but there had never been any major safety concerns, he said.

"You never got a bad vibe," he said.

Khlaed Hassan came to Tauranga Mosque every Friday and said the news was a big shock.

He was originally from Egypt and never expected anything like this to happen in New Zealand.

"New Zealand is a peaceful country ... hopefully, we will recover."

Hassan was at Tauranga Mosque to pray yesterday afternoon and was only alerted to the attack by a colleague when he returned to work.

He knew someone who had been injured at the Linwood Mosque - one of two mosques where a shooter opened fire on people praying.

Amid the chaos, people had broken a back window and tried to escape that way.

The person Hassan knew had fallen and been trampled by people panicking and running away.

Tauranga Muslim Samira Hammad. Photo / Andrew Warner
Tauranga Muslim Samira Hammad. Photo / Andrew Warner

Khlaed Hassan's wife, Samira Hammad, said the shootings at the mosques robbed the Muslim community of a place to come without fear.

"This is our holy place ... [but] it's hard to come without fear, and we shouldn't come with any fear," she said.

"We should be able to come and feel more safe than at home or work.

"It is hard to think about how things will change ... it's hard to think about tomorrow."

Community must come together


Tauranga Muslim Mohammad Zaber says the only way to move forward from the tragedy, which stole the lives of 50 people, was for communities and cultures to come together.

Zaber said racism was a global issue that had stemmed from people forming opinions without a true understanding of other religions and cultures that weren't their own.

The 35-year-old Tauranga man hoped people would now be willing and open to understanding more about the different cultures living within their communities.

Tauranga Muslim Mohammad Zaber says the only way to move forward from the tragedy was for communities and cultures to come together. Photo/Andrew Warner.
Tauranga Muslim Mohammad Zaber says the only way to move forward from the tragedy was for communities and cultures to come together. Photo/Andrew Warner.

"When the communities come together, and they take part with each other, only then is it possible to remove any wall or gap. Only then the bigotry and the hatred will be resolved," he said.

Zaber had finished his afternoon prayer at the Tauranga Mosque on Friday afternoon when he received a call from his friend in Christchurch who had missed going to prayer and was safe.

"At first I didn't take it seriously," he said. "In New Zealand, you do not expect this to happen. But when things started unfolding, I was shocked, panicked, speechless."

Zaber said going to prayer was meant to be a sacred place, and he had felt that safety had been taken away.

"When I am doing my prayer there will be a subconscious mind wondering what could come from behind. At prayer time, we are relaxed, calm; your attention is in a different place. You don't expect anything, so you are very vulnerable," he said.

"For a few people it will feel unsafe and probably they will be hesitant to go there, but there are also people who are courageous will say if I am to face death why not it be there. It has two sides."

He has not yet been back to the Tauranga Mosque but said he would be there for prayer next Friday.

Zaber said most Muslims would pray five times a day and attend the weekly Friday afternoon prayer, called salat, which was the most important.

Typically, the prayer leader would give a 15 to a 20-minute lecture on different topics, including charity or life discipline before the hour-long community prayer.

"It is really important," he said.

Zaber came to New Zealand in 2010 but said the Christchurch tragedy did not make him feel unsafe.

"I will still be living life like before, but there will always be your subconscious mind that you can't control," he said.