Christchurch Muslims protected as they pray following mass haka

Christchurch (New Zealand) (AFP) –


Muslims praying in front of the one of the Christchurch mosques attacked by a white supremacist were protected on Wednesday evening by locals, moments after hundreds performed a mass haka.

The touching display was the latest act of solidarity shown by inhabitants of a city still reeling from the worst attack on Muslims in the West in recent times.

Throughout the last five days small groups of Muslims have defiantly held evening prayers in front of the Al Noor mosque, the first of two to be assaulted last Friday by a lone gunman in an attack that killed 50 people.

But on Wednesday evening they had help.

As men, women and children prayed and prostrated, dozens of locals silently stood behind them, their arms interlinked.

"My heart is racing, it's something unbelievable, I can barely describe it," Omar, a 32-year-old Muslim who had flown from Sydney earlier this week, told AFP.

"To see the community all so close together, it's amazing," he added.

Moments earlier a crowd of hundreds thumped their chests, stomped their feet and stuck out their tongues for a haka dance, their Maori cries echoing across the park towards the bloodstained mosque.

Nuha Asad, who lost her husband Ali Elmadani in the massacre, was watching from the sidelines, visibly moved.

"The New Zealand community really cares for us and we're really together in this," she told AFP. "It made us a littler happier in the grief".

- 'We bleed the same' -

The traditional haka is used in Maori culture in a variety of ways -- to intimidate ahead of All Black rugby matches, to celebrate weddings but also to mourn, melding both hostility and beauty into an outpouring of true emotion.

In the aftermath of Friday's attack it has become a common sight to see groups breaking out into the dance, from schoolkids to bikers.

But Wednesday's mass haka was one of the largest yet.

It was led by a group of biker gangs, many sporting the patches of the clubs and arriving on guttural choppers.

"We are here because love is greater than hate, that's the theme. We are here tonight for our Muslim whanau," said Derek Tait, a biker and pastor dressed in a black leather, using a Maori term for an extended family.

But he also called on New Zealanders to show more than just solidarity in the coming weeks and months.

"It should be from here forward that we make a stand against any hate at all," he added, to loud applause from the crowd.

One of those in the crowd was Jacob Leo Skilling, proudly sporting a freshly inked tattoo on his left calf, the skin still red and sore from the needle.

It showed the face of a Muslim woman wearing a face veil with the words "They are us" written above and a dove.

The 27-year-old said he had decided to get the tattoo earlier that day.

"At the end of the day, we're all one race," he told AFP.

"Regardless of religion, colour, black, white, it doesn't matter, we're all human beings, we all bleed the same."