Christchurch mosque attack: Survivor's message to the alleged gunman

As the one-year anniversary of New Zealand's darkest day approaches, this week marks a time of reflection for survivors of the Christchurch shooting who continue to battle mental and physical scars.

On March 15, 2019, 51 people were killed when a gunman opened fire in Christchurch's Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre. The trauma has left a permanent stain on New Zealand's history, as survivors, widows and children struggle to move on from the unspeakable act of terror. 

Survivor Rahimi Ahmad's 11-year-old son remains traumatised by the event that left his father partially paralysed.

Ahmad, 40, went to prayers with his son that day. A bullet hit his spinal cord, leaving him in a coma for six days. Almost a year and three operations later, he is still unable to return to work due to his paralysed leg.

"I know it will change my life forever. It's still 100 percent in my mind. I still remember how I [saw] the bullet go in front of my eyes... I panicked because my son was lost from my hand, that made me very worried, even after I had been shot through my back," Ahmad told The AM Show on Friday.

"I was still thinking of him and my family when I lay down. When I woke up in the ICU, I just asked, 'where is my son?' I realised something had happened to my body.

"The bullet touched my lower spine and badly injured my nerve. My left leg is paralysed, I cannot walk by myself."

Ahmad says his son is receiving ongoing counselling for his anxiety following the attack. He says the trauma has also affected his young daughter. 

"I don't have nightmares, but sometimes that feeling still comes, especially when I go to Friday prayer. The feeling someone will come from the back, comes to my mind," he said.

"[But there is] a lot of personnel that supports me. I don't think I will have any problems. I know if I have a problem, I can get support from all of the teams."

Yet Ahmad sees his suffering as the ultimate test.

"I realise that I've been shot. I just think this is the test from our God, Allah, to me. So I have no feeling to blame on [the gunman], maybe because he [doesn't] know what Islam is. I already forgive him."

He also has a message for the alleged shooter.

"I hope you are in good condition, you know what is love, because when you put love to your heart, you will eliminate the evil or the devil things."

'It's definitely harder this time of year'

Zahra Ditta is the daughter of another survivor who was shot in the leg. This week has resurfaced agonising memories for the family. 

"People are supportive... I think that's what has gotten us through the last year. It's definitely harder this time of year, hearing about it again. It's not easy," she told The AM Show.

"Physically [my dad has] recovered, but the everlasting impact of the trauma is taking a while... it's had a huge impact on us and the community. Going to the mosque will never be the same."

Zahra believes Christchurch has become more inclusive and open-minded since the attacks.

"Before March 15, there were certain mindsets about Islam and Muslims. It's sad it took a tragedy for this to happen, but I think in Christchurch a lot of people have opened up, wanting to learn and come to the mosque. It's really nice," she explained.

Zahra is less willing to extend her forgiveness to the alleged offender.

"Forgiveness is quite a broad term... I think that resentment will go away in time, but we still have it heavy in our heart. If it wasn't for our faith and practices, we wouldn't have been able to get through what we have."

'The trauma and grief is still very raw'

For the widows, employment, immigration issues, financial worries and cultural barriers have only exacerbated their struggle, says Anjum Rahman, the spokeswoman for the Islamic Women's Council.

"I think it's different for different women. Some were in employment and have strong family support around them, while some have had to learn to drive, have English as a second language and are worried about their financial future," she explained.

"Emotionally and mentally it's a huge thing to carry... the trauma and grief has to be worked through and it's still very raw. Mental health support is vital, making sure they get ongoing quality and appropriate care. 

"That uncertainty around their financial future and immigration status causes stress and affects mental wellbeing... a settled future will really help. It will never go away, but if they can see a life they can build for themselves and their children, that will be the biggest help we can give them."

While Rahman has nothing but praise for the teams and personnel who have supported the families since the terror attacks, she questions New Zealand's diversity of services.

"I think one of the issues is we were not prepared as a country for this kind of attack. There was a lack of culturally-appropriate services in terms of long-term mental health care," she said.

"I understand there is work going on to train staff and social workers so they can provide better help... but as I say, a lot of good will - just needing a bit more expertise and consistency of services."

Up to 4000 people will attend Friday's prayers and the national commemoration ceremony will be held on Sunday in Christchurch.