WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Muslims and Catholics worship at city marae

Nikki Phillips

Te Kainga Marae and Community Centre in Kilbirnie created history last month by sharing their miha [mass] with the neighbouring Muslim community.

The miha was celebrated in te reo Māori, and members of Te Kainga and Māori representatives from the Ministry of Internal Affairs formally welcomed the manuhiri [guests] onto the marae with former kaitiaki [guardian], Henare Walmsley, blowing the putatara [large shell horn] and Nikki Phillips performing the karanga.

Tania Te Kira performed the karanga for the manuhiri. Bob Penetito [Pou Arahi – central post] spoke on behalf of the manuhiri in te reo Māori.

Marae stalwart, Craig Nicholson, who is also ethnic adviser for the Office of Ethnic Affairs [Department of Internal Affairs] bridged the divide between the two cultures.

His work often takes him to the mosque in Lyall Bay and he has learnt about the Islamic faith and Muslim people. Craig is also part of the Te Reo Māori [Māori Language] class at Te Kainga. Craig saw this occasion as a great opportunity to break down barriers and stereotypes than can exist between different groups. He contacted Henare Walmsley of Te Kainga and a group from the Mosque to arrange for this meeting of neighbours.

Although it is customary for hongi [pressing of noses] to take place after the karanga, it is forbidden for a woman of the Islamic faith to touch a man who is not her husband or brother. As a blending of faiths and cultures, all women were greeted with the Muslim gesture of putting a hand to our own heart coupled with a Tena Koe or the Islamic greeting As-salaamu:Alaykum [Peace upon you] to which the response is Wa:Alaykum As-salaam [And upon you peace].

Then Sheikh Amir chanted a passage from the Koran in Arabic. He told us how he chose this passage to draw our attention to similarities in our faiths. The image of a sheikh chanting and even the word ‘Koran’ is often linked by mainstream western media with news items about violence in the world.

Sheikh Amir read the translated version – it was the creation story with God, Adam, Eve, Heavens and Earth and other glorious things. Imagine the images on our TV screens that may evoke fear among non-Muslims. Imagine fearing the word of God because it is spoken in a language that is foreign to us and in a chanting style we are perhaps unfamiliar with.

According to Craig Nicholson, the chanting is done in a distinct musical tone that is a skill taught to and learnt solely by Islamic spiritual leaders. It was similar to a combination of Māori chants with the tonal sound similar to the karanga although the process in learning the Islamic chant is much more complex.

Celebrant Fr Brian O’Connell sm told the gathering Sheikh Amir’s reading from the Koran fitted in well with the day’s gospel reading [Mk 4:35-41]. The creation story from the Koran was filled with lightning and other stormy themes much like the story of Jesus in the storm. Fr O’Connell told us how important it is to remain calm and peaceful during such storms using our faith in God.

The second reading from the bible was a call for others not to judge us. It is easy to buy into the stereotype that is portrayed on TV, yet the diversity of our guests was evident in their manner of dress, vocation, and ethnicity (all the continents seemed to be represented).

Craig Nicholson said there were around 40 cultural and ethnic groups in the Islamic community in New Zealand. Not only were these new friends our Muslim neighbours, but also among them was our local doctor from the Kilbirnie Medical Centre nextdoor to the marae in Mahora Street.

The final hymn was the national anthem God of Nations. It was chosen to unite us as one group under God. Our guests had made a distinct effort to learn some of our Māori songs and to sing them so beautifully.

Mass was followed by a hakari [feast] in the wharekai [food hall]. Liz Walmsley’s vegetarian supper of chickpeas and spinach curry with rice; and macadamia and mango muffins were a hit with our guests. Shiekh Amir said their group enjoyed the hospitality they received at Te Kainga and were impressed with the marae’s facilities. Mothers shared stories about their family, work and study. In the Catholic tradition, and perhaps in the wider Godly tradition, people were finding unification and commonalities between the groups. Henare noticed similarities not only between Catholic and Islamic but also between Māori and Islamic traditions.

Sheikh Amir said for many of the group it was ‘the first time [on a marae] and a wonderful experience’ that they had been looking forward to for sometime. He said they found the meeting interesting and useful.

Craig Nicholson is arranging for Te Kainga to visit the mosque this month. Te Kainga parishioners are looking forward to what will surely be a wonderful experience and a first time for many.

Sometimes our ignorance of other cultures and faiths can prevent us from reaching out to our brothers and sisters for fear of offending them. The Islamic Community is opening their doors in August during Islamic Awareness Week. You are welcome to attend an open day at the mosque, 11 Queens Drive, Lyall Bay.

The open day is an ideal opportunity for individuals and families to learn more about the Islamic faith and what really goes on within the mosque walls. Children will enjoy the bouncy castle and playing with their newfound or perhaps existing Muslim friends. The date for the open day will be advertised locally once finalised. Shiekh Amir says when we confine ourselves to our own culture, we won’t know what other people are doing. Learning more about other cultures will help us all broaden our minds.

It is harder to draw false assumptions of what goes on behind the walls if we actually venture within them. We can love our neighbour and only then should we expect that in return.