The Imam of Al Noor Mosque, Gamal Fouda, has returned to Dunedin - where he used to be an Islamic leader - to give the city's 16th annual open peace lecture.
Gamal Fouda. Photo: RNZ / Screenshot
Mr Fouda had just begun his Friday sermon on 15 March when a gunman entered the mosque on Deans Avenue, in Christchurch, and opened fire.
It is the first time Mr Fouda has publicly addressed Dunedin - where he formerly served as leader of Al Huda Mosque, the initial target of the accused gunman - since March's shootings.
The open peace lecture is an initiative of the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group which came together following 2001's terror attacks.
Gamal Fouda told those in attendance New Zealand had been a beacon of strength and unity since the shootings.
He said he was proud to be a Kiwi.
"I have moved from my home country to New Zealand and now this is my land," he said.
"It is my place. It is the place of my family and my children. It is my tūrangawaewae.
"I love this soil. I love us because we are one."
But New Zealanders could not get complacent and must remain committed to stamping out racism and discrimination as it was now clear where ignorance and fear led, Mr Fouda said.
Mr Fouda admitted as a migrant to New Zealand post-9/11 in the early 2000s, he too fell prey to fear.
"When I arrived in Palmerston North, believe it or not, I stayed in the mosque for around four months - I never went out," he said.
"I was very frightened to walk in the street wearing the Imam uniform because people would recognise me as a Muslim and they might cause harm to me."
He truly believed he might be killed for his faith.
But his first interaction with a New Zealander convinced him he belonged here.
"The first person that met me in the street, approached me and said 'Hello bro'.
"I asked myself what was this man saying? Later on my friend told me 'This is the short form of hello brother'."
That interaction stuck with him, especially in light of 15 March.
"On the 15th of March, 2019, a terrorist walked into Deans Avenue Mosque. One of our worshippers went up to the man and said 'Hello brother'. Hard-heartedly the terrorist killed him in cold blood.
"So the same word we use for peace was viciously disregarded by a human beast who attacked the peaceful worshippers in Deans Avenue Mosque."
Mr Fouda said despite the unity and strength the country had shown since 15 March, New Zealanders needed to remain vigilant.
"We still have lots of work to do to eliminate racism in our country. We are not angels and we are not perfect. There are people here who still need more education to learn how to tolerate others and to learn how to accept others that are different to them."