CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) – The scars from the 9 bullets the gunman fired into Temel Atacocugu run down his left facet like knotty rope. Nevertheless it’s the recurring psychological pictures from that day on the mosque that he typically finds hardest to deal with: The gunman’s face. The puff of smoke from his gun. The worshippers falling as they clamored to flee.
After coming so near dying almost 5 months in the past, Atacocugu feels he has been “reborn.” And this week he plans to specific his gratitude to God for being given the prospect for a brand new life when he participates within the hajj, the holy Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
The 44-year-old kebab store co-owner is amongst 200 survivors and victims’ family members from the Christchurch mosque shootings who’re touring to Saudi Arabia as friends of King Salman. The king is paying for his or her airfare, lodging and journey prices, a invoice that may run effectively over $1 million. The group will even journey to holy websites in Medina.
All able-bodied Muslims are required to carry out the hajj as soon as of their lifetime, with many saving for years to make the journey. The annual pilgrimage attracts almost 2 million Muslims from all over the world to Mecca and websites round it to carry out a sequence of historic rites and prayers meant to cleanse the soul of previous sins and convey individuals nearer to God.
The Saudi ambassador to New Zealand, Abdulrahman Al Suhaibani, says King Salman was shocked by the March 15 assaults at two mosques through which an Australian white supremacist has been charged with killing 51 individuals.
The Christchurch shootings have been cited as inspiration by different white supremacists, most just lately in an assault at a Walmart retailer in El Paso, Texas, that left at the very least 22 individuals useless.
Annually, the king invitations a number of hundred individuals to carry out the hajj as his personal friends, typically deciding on these most touched by tragedy that yr. Al Suhaibani mentioned that is the primary time the king has invited anybody from New Zealand on his annual program to help get individuals to the hajj who in any other case may wrestle to make it.
Two weeks in the past, the ambassador traveled to Christchurch at hand out the easy white clothes the male pilgrims will put on. The terry fabric clothes worn by males are supposed to strip pilgrims down of decoration and symbolize equality of mankind earlier than God.
“It’s a beautiful time and it is a golden probability for individuals to get religious elevation,” says Gamal Fouda, the imam on the Al Noor mosque, one of many two mosques that had been attacked.
Fouda, who additionally survived the shootings, is travelling with the group as a religious chief. He says that whereas all Muslims wish to do the hajj, many are likely to delay their journeys as a result of expense, particularly from distant New Zealand.
Fouda says the reminiscences of the capturing stay recent in everyone’s minds and his mosque hasn’t but returned to regular.
“Crucial factor is that the New Zealand group, together with Muslims, they stood collectively towards hate,” Fouda says. “And we’re nonetheless saying that hate just isn’t going to divide us. We are going to proceed to like one another.”
Atacocugu says he was feeling good on March 15 when he entered the Al Noor mosque for Friday prayers after ending a ultimate session with an acupuncturist, who was treating him for a sports activities damage.
When he noticed the gunman stroll into the mosque, he thought at first he was a police officer due to his paramilitary clothes. Then the person began capturing and Atacocugu discovered himself trying proper at him as he fired a bullet into Atacocugu’s mouth, shattering his jaw.
“After which I mentioned, ‘Oh my God, I’m dying.’ After I see he’s capturing, once I see the smoke, I mentioned, ‘Yeah, I’m dying.’ That’s the primary thought,” Atacocugu says.
After falling to the ground, his left arm ended up defending his important organs because the gunman continued firing bullets into him.
Recovering on the Christchurch Hospital after the capturing, Atacocugu couldn’t eat for every week and couldn’t stroll for 3 weeks. However after a number of surgical procedures, he’s now capable of stroll unassisted and get some use from his left hand. He has extra surgical procedures forward and is being helped in Saudi Arabia by his 21-year-old nephew, who’s touring with him.
One other of these touring to the hajj is 33-year-old Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein, 35, was amongst these killed on the Al Noor mosque.
“We had a really typical sibling relationship,” she says. “So you could have your nagging elder brother, nagging little sister. However on the finish of the day you’re keen on one another, regardless that you don’t verbally say it. However you simply telepathically know that.”
She says witnesses and video taken by the gunman point out her brother stood as much as the attacker, permitting others to flee.
“So he fought to the final minute,” she says. “And that is Hussein, in his nature. He’s at all times the kind of one that would wish to see if there’s hazard, he’d face it, he wouldn’t escape from it.”
When visiting Mecca, Al-Umari says, she’ll pray for her dad and mom and herself to have the persistence to deal with the lack of Hussein. She additionally plans to wish for the opposite households from her mosque who misplaced family members. And she or he says she feels her brother might be together with her in Saudi Arabia.
“I’ll carry his presence with me the entire time once I’m in Mecca,” Al-Umari says. “He’s with us every single day. However within the journey, I’ll really feel like he’ll accompany me.”
Al-Umari says she needs to return to the hajj one other yr.
“I’ll do my stage greatest to ensure I fulfill my obligation first, after which I’ll do it on his behalf subsequent time,” she says.
The hajj is without doubt one of the 5 pillars of Islam. In the course of the five-day pilgrimage, Muslims circle Islam’s most sacred website, the cube-shaped Kaaba, and participate in rituals supposed to result in better humility and unity.
Fouda, the imam, says that whereas he has been to Mecca earlier than, he has by no means been there throughout the hajj, so it will likely be a particular journey for him as effectively.
“I’ll pray for God to forgive my sins, as a result of each human is sinful,” he says.
“And I will even pray for the peace of the world. Peace for the individuals of Christchurch. Peace for the individuals of New Zealand. And peace for the entire world,” he says. “We ask God that we discover a higher world than we dwell in, relatively than spreading hate.”
Aira Goldsmith is a graduate of Parsons School of Design. She’s based in NYC but travels much of the year. Aira has written for Buzz Feed, Motherboard, The Financial Post, and the Huffington Post. Aira is a business reporter, focusing on technology and markets.