It was hard to miss the armed police presence outside the Avondale Islamic Centre over the weeks since the mosque shootings in Christchurch on 15 March this year. In fact, Avondale police had an existing relationship with the Imam from the centre.
When he began his role with the Avondale Police Station in 2017, Inspector Grant Tetzlaff recognised he knew little about many of the religious groups in the area.
“As an organisation,” he says, “we are taught to value diversity. I felt it was my responsibility to get to know them better so I contacted the Imam from the mosque. People form stereotypes about uniformed police, and I guessed it would be similar for Muslims with their different garb and all the negative reporting they receive from media.”
The Imam, Sheikh Shaakir Ismail, welcomed the outreach and the two have consequently become firm friends.
“The Imam is a lovely man,” says Grant. “He is only too willing to explain the basic precepts of Islam that attract so many cultures from around the world. We’ve met a number of times now and have built a relationship with several people from the mosque.”
As a result, when Grant heard of the shooting in Christchurch, he called the Imam directly and a team of police were outside the mosque within an hour to provide protection. A meeting of Muslim leaders was held at the station that same night.
The police patrolled the perimeter of nine mosques in our regional area 24/7 for over five weeks – a significant commitment.
“It is challenging for an officer to stand there for hours on end in all weathers,” says Grant. “So, I was struck by the way the Muslim community looked after our staff - it was so nice to see. One local Muslim man even took to bringing them cooked eggs on toast! Other community members also stopped to chat. There was so much good to come out of it in terms of breaking barriers.”
The Imam concurs: “The Christchurch journey, if we can use that phrase, has been a coming together of different community groups, a journey of compassion, kindness and bonding. We have felt a sincere response from all New Zealanders that what happened to us, happened to all – New Zealand as a whole was the target of this atrocity. The inspector has looked after my family as his own and has become a close friend. It means a lot.”