A mental health social worker who volunteers as an imam in Auckland has paid tribute to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her "aroha" after the March 15 Christchurch terror attack.
Seyed Mohammed Yoosuf, a voluntary imam at the Ranui mosque in Auckland, thanked Ardern for her response to the 2019 tragedy, in front of a packed audience at the Public Service Association (PSA)'s Biennial Congress in Wellington.
Yoosuf praised the Prime Minister for her "inclusiveness" towards the Muslim community, pointing to her language in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on two Christchurch mosques, which claimed the lives of 51 people.
"What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence," Ardern said on March 15, 2019. "It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities - New Zealand is their home - they are us."
Yoosuf said he was moved by Ardern's words.
"Honestly, Honourable Prime Minister, on the day of the Christchurch incident, we are hopeless, we are helpless. We don't come out of our houses. Most of the women and children they can't speak English - cultural barrier, language barrier, and so on."
He said the Muslim community was "so shocked" by the event until they heard Ardern's words, which he pointed out "reached all parts of the globe".
Yoosuf also praised Ardern for wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslims, which was captured in images shared across the world.
Yoosuf walked up onto the stage to bow before the Prime Minister and she returned the gesture.
"I don't often get this opportunity to tell an extended story around the response after March 15," Ardern said in response to Yoosuf's remarks.
Addressing him, she said: "One of the things, as you rightly said, there were language barriers between us as a Government and the community that we were trying to support and serve."
Ardern reflected on meeting members of the Muslim community from around the country who happened to be frontline Government workers, who put their hand up to go to Christchurch and support the response in the days after.
"We had staff from across the public service who left their families and for a prolonged period of time based themselves out of Christchurch and threw themselves into supporting the community and making sure they had access to services, whether it was ACC, MSD - whatever they needed," Ardern said.
"I just wanted to acknowledge the work that they did because it was incredible and they taught me a lot as well and so I think that we can feel very proud of those who were on the ground representing us in those days as well."
Yoosuf, a Sri Lankan-born Muslim who was raised in Malaysia before moving to New Zealand in 2000, told Newshub he wanted to send his "aroha, thanks and gratitude" to the Prime Minister, "especially working in mental health, and also as a community leader".
He said the Prime Minister once paid a special visit to his mosque.
"The message is to say thank you and god bless you madam for the wonderful support and aroha."
Yoosuf said the Muslim community was "so traumatised" by the event and that it was exacerbated by cultural and language barriers.
"They don't know how to express their sense of worries, emotions and depression with the language barrier.... They are trapped and shocked, and the Prime Minister encouraged those people - those victims and the families," he said.
"It was a great relief for us."
The Christchurch mosque terrorist was sentenced in August to life in prison after pleading guilty to murdering 51 people.
The Australian citizen also pleaded guilty to 40 counts of attempted murder and one charge of terrorism - the first person in New Zealand history to be convicted of that crime and to be sentenced to life without parole.
Ardern, who following the attacks last year vowed never to speak the shooter's name, responded to the sentencing by praising the Muslim community adversely affected by the crime.
"The trauma of March 15 is not easily healed. But today I hope is the last where we have any cause to hear or utter the name of the terrorist behind it. He deserves a lifetime of complete and utter silence."