2019 Annual Peace Lecture
Social Cohesion Product of Respecting Diversity: An Islamic Perspective.
Imam Gamal Fouda. Imam of Al Noor Mosque, Christchurch
September 9th 2019 in St David Lecture Theatre, Otago University

Kia ora! tēnā koutou, Shalom, Frieden, Hépíng, Shaanti, Pyeonghwa

Assalamo Alaikom

Good evening everyone. My name is Gamal Fouda, I am the Imam or the Religious Minister at Deans Avenue mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.  

Thank you for inviting me tonight and I'm honoured to address you as well and it is my pleasure to share with you my story and my journey when I first came to New Zealand in 2003. I went to Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. I studied Islamic Theology and graduated in 1998.

For two years, I worked as an Imam or Religious Minister in the ministry of Religious Affairs. Then the president of the Muslim Association of Greater Rockford in Illinois in the USA came to know about me from a friend who visited the USA. He called me in Egypt to see if I will agree to become an Imam in their mosque in Rockford. The congregation of that Islamic center interviewed me after one of Ramadan night prayers in the USA time, it was early morning in Egypt.

The interview went very well and they decided to offer me the job. Few days later, the president of the association flew to Egypt and came to my Village to visit me and we went together to the Minister of Religious Affairs in Egypt to actually get the approval and finish the process and probably get a visa to the USA. Unfortunately, this was directly after September 11th Attack on New York, It was early 2002.

The Egyptian officials told us that it is not safe to send such a young man to the USA, instead, they said they were going to send me to one of the safest countries in the world. It was New Zealand. We all thought it would be safe.


I searched the internet about New Zealand, and unexpectedly, I found it in the bottom of the world. Initially, I thought that it must be close to Holland or Switzerland in Europe.

I got really disappointed because I am going to be sent to a country in the bottom of the world which is very, very far away from my home country.

Anyway, I started the process of my posting to New Zealand as an Imam in Palmerston North, in the lower North Island of New Zealand. I arrived in Palmerston North in January 2003, it was really hard for me to start my job there as an Imam who needs to address people in English. I didn't have long experience enough to understand the western mentality as well so that I can address people in the right way.


There was something else which made me very anxious, it is the feeling that people assume that Muslims are bad people. This stereotyping was the norm of the day for many people in the world at that time especially after September 11th attack in the USA. Sadly, it is still the norm today. I felt very frustrated and anxious at the same time. When I arrived in Palmerston North, believe it or not, I stayed in the mosque for around 4 months! I never went out. Frankly speaking, I was so scared to go out and meet people out there.


I was very frightened to walk in the street wearing the Imam uniform because people will recognize me as a Muslim and they might cause harm to me. After 2 months, I started to go out of my room and cautiously stood by the gate and read the Holy Quran.  Whenever I hear any noise of a car coming towards the mosque, I quickly run inside the building to save my life.

I thought that if someone recognizes me, he would kill me instantly. You might wonder how I got my food then. Well, people from the mosque used to do shopping for me and sometimes graciously they cook food for me as well..


One day, I said to myself, let me wear a shirt and a trouser so that people can not recognize me as Imam. The first person met me in the street approached me and said”  Hello Bro”  I asked myself what this man was saying…... later on, I asked a person in the mosque who lived in New Zealand for quite some time about what that man said and my friend told me this is a short form of hello brother. I said to myself this is nice. People here must be very kind then…


On the 15th of March 2019, a terrorist walked into Deans Avenue mosque when I was delivering my Friday speech. One of our worshippers went up to the man and said, “Hello Brother.” Hardheartedly, the terrorist killed him in cold blood along with other 51 people. He wounded 47 more. So the same word we use for peace, was viciously disregarded by a human Beast who attacked the peaceful worshipers in Deans Avenue mosque.

Who could have imagined such a horrific attack might happen in New Zealand, the country that used to be famous for its peace, tranquility, compassion, care and love around the globe. Whenever any person asks about the most peaceful country in the world, instantly people would say it is New Zealand.

This terrible person wanted to divide our nation apart but we quickly stood together and we said that no hate will divide us. The whole world watched that on the media. From the top person in the country to the ordinary person in the street.


On March 22nd, one week after the 15th March terror attack, I addressed thousands of people in Hagley Park and said “hate will not divide us and love will redeem us”.


A week later, I visited Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie which was a crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. I paid a historic visit to the biggest Synagogue in Berlin, where I addressed some students and preachers. I told them that Muslims and Jews are siblings to each other. The Jews felt the pain of discrimination by Nazis. Now Muslims are passing through the same path of agony and disgrace.

After September 11, when many countries participated in the War on Terror, Islam and Muslims have frequently been treated as public enemies, and hate speech against them has been widely normalised.


People assume that Muslims and Jews are enemies. But we are not. Judaism, Islam and Christianity are religions from God. God told us to love each other and work together for the benefit of the people around us and those in our society. Religions are there for people to learn how to love each other. They are not there to build a wall between you and the people around you.

Islam teaches us to love each other and to care about each other and for each other.

Any religion that teaches violence and killing innocent people is not from the true God who created all of us because God loves us. He created us, he cares for us. We are from him. He is our God the creator, the nourisher the sustainer. He gave us everything; he gave us our heart, our eyes, the power, the ability, the health the wealth, everything we enjoy is from God.

So God loves us. He wants us to love each other and to share the planet in peace with each other. And it is his wisdom to make us different from each other in colour, in language, and ethnicities so that we can enjoy this Earth together. If you want to be a doctor and I want to be a doctor and everyone wants to be a doctor who is going to be a teacher or a builder or a hairdresser? If everyone wants the same tomato, we end up killing each other for a tomato!


It’s up to us, we need to make good choices. We need to work with each other and to cooperate with each other and to care for each other. Though we are different but we can still enjoy each other and love each other.


New Zealand and New Zealanders have set a role model for the world to emulate in peace and harmony among its people. New Zealanders must retain and strengthen this beautiful image. We are the leaders of the world in maintaining the harmony among our citizens. We are very proud that we are together, we are not broken, we have taught the world how to care for and love our people.


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 understand others and accept others who are different to them. In 2038 half of New Zealand will be immigrants, which means that one day we will probably have immigrant Mayors, or Ministers. Whether we want it or not, this is the right of every New Zealand citizen.

I have moved from my home country to New Zealand, and now this is my land, it is my place, it is the place of my family and my children. It is my too-ranga-why-why tūrangawaewae. I love this soil, I love this land, I love this place, I love these people, I love us, because we are one. This is my home, I cherish it. I love people, and I expect people to love me, and that is what brings harmony to our beautiful society.

Diversity is the superpower of any nation. When people love and care for each other the whole nation will be very strong and powerful. When we hate each other, the nation becomes weak and shattered.

The prophet Muhammad said, “The believers are like one body. When any part aches the whole body will feel the pain.”


I believe that when any one of us aches, we all feel the pain. That is what happened on the 15th of March. The whole nation felt the pain. It was an attack on all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims. It was a war against New Zealand. It was a war against peace and love.

Please I would like all the peace lovers to carry peace in our hearts to express our love to all human beings and to share this planet with love and care for each other.

I admire two great leaders in our world today:

H Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State. And Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, the head of the vast majority of Muslims around the world.

These brave religious leaders, signed a historic Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together. They called for peace between nations, religions and races, in front of a global audience of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths.

The two great leaders pledged that al-Azhar and the Vatican will work together to combat hate speech and racism and most importantly to fight extremism. The document warns against a “third world war being fought piecemeal”. It says: “people mustn’t use religions to incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”

They appealed to all people to reject awful violence and blind extremism. They asked us to cherish the values of tolerance and fraternity that are promoted and encouraged by religions. And they declared that God has created us to understand one another, cooperate with one another and live as brothers and sisters who love one another.

This is what they hope and seek to achieve with the aim of finding a universal peace that all can enjoy in this life.


I would like to see our country “A Country with Zero Racial Discrimination."

New Zealand now is setting on the international stage for peace and social cohesion among its citizens of all races and colours. We are leading the world towards love, compassion and care for each and every individual in our nation. The world wants to learn from us. The whole world got surprised at how we quickly came together after such a horrific attack on the innocent worshippers in Deans Avenue mosque on March 15.

We have to maintain this prestigious poison, through our care and love towards each other. This is the challenge we are facing at the moment. The country has to find ways how to stay in that unique position.

Racial discrimination is a serious matter and can’t be accepted in our society. Hate speech on social media is part of racial discrimination and it can kill and cause disharmony in our society.

You may have been racially discriminated against if someone:

  • Makes offensive remarks or jokes about your religion, your race, your colour, your ethnicity or nationality.
  • Mimics the way you speak.
  • Calls you racist names
  • Sends you racially offensive materials on the social media
  • It can be something small like deliberately mispronouncing your name.

We have to use our brain and ask ourselves why racial discrimination is wrong. Critical thinking is a very powerful tool to drive our youths, our children safely towards a more cohesive society. We need to start to question anything and any ideas presented to us including what I am telling you tonight.

Asking questions opens the door to understanding and drives us to make sense of our world. We shouldn’t be fooled by some irresponsible media platforms or political leaders who sometimes misguide the public for political or material gains. This way they divide the nations into factions hating each other and competing with one another.

In this beautiful country which we love and cherish and we are proud of, everyone has the right to be treated fairly and with full respect. We all have the right to be free from unwelcome racial conduct by anyone and anywhere. My simple advice to anyone tonight, you don’t have to put up with racist behaviour.


Racial discrimination is often repeated unless action is taken. So we have to take it seriously, talk to the person, give /her/him advice. It may not impact you directly but definitely it will impact somebody else very badly. It may impact on how you feel about work, study or accessing services. It can lower your self-esteem and causes health problems.

We all have a moral responsibility to take steps to prevent racial discrimination and to speak against it.

  • Talk it over with someone you trust and who will keep the information confidential. This may help clarify your best course of action.
  • Speak to the people who are causing you troubles and tell them you want them to stop.
  • Seek advice and assistance from your manager, your school or college counsellor, the Human Rights Commission, your union representative or a lawyer, a professional disciplinary body, the police, the Employment Relations Service.
  • Be a role model. Be vocal in opposing discriminatory views and practices, especially with friends and family who respect your opinion. Help educate others about issues and about your own experiences.

We should not make assumptions. Stereotypes hurt everyone. Islamophobia is real, it killed in many places around the world. It killed us in Christchurch.

  • We need to examine what our prejudices are and make adjustments to look at everyone as an individual human being created by the same God.

We are all brothers from a different mother.

  • We should learn about other people and their cultures. By learning about other people, our life will be completely different for good and our appreciation for our own culture will deepen.
  • In our work places, in our classes, start to work on projects with members or groups different from your own.
  • Working as an equal alongside others from different groups on a common project is one of the best ways to undo prejudice and build positive relationships with people.
  • Use food to celebrate cultural diversity. Food can present a good opportunity to learn more about someone’s culture and traditions. He cooks Hangi, she makes Pavlova and they make Tandoori Chicken and I make Basbusa.
  • As parents or guardians, religious figures, Imams, religious Ministers, teachers and educators, we need to expose our people to diversity at a young age. Read stories that explain the point of view of other groups. Discuss TV shows, movies or books that present stereotypes. Children can benefit from knowing other children from different groups in the young age, before prejudices and biases are formed.
  • As parents or guardians, religious figures, Imams, teachers and educators, we need to find any local anti-prejudice and anti-racist organizations and give them our great support.
  • Whether your efforts are in volunteering, financial donation or being an advocate, working with other groups toward the same goal can be beneficial to you, to your children and to the community around you.
  • I am sure you'll meet great people and find real support for your efforts. By getting involved, your voice can make a big difference at the local level and sometimes at the international level as well.
  • Also we should report any material on television, radio, print or on the social media which we consider to be racist as these often likely to lead to racial tension in our society. Quite often it starts from the social media.

Now, nearly 6 months past the tragic events of 15th of March! Where to from here?  

We need to renew the call for social harmony and to address the racial discrimination and hate speech on the media. we need to promote the value of diversity, racial understanding and harmony. In all our governmental and non-governmental agencies, we have to be extremely careful. We must not cover any single serious threats to racial harmony in this beautiful country.

We need to make sure that it is unacceptable to publish material which is, threatening, abusive or insulting or likely to excite hostility’ against any group of people or bring them into contempt on the ground of their religion, colour, race or ethnicity. Some people may say we are in a democratic country, where the freedom of speech is! Of course the right to freedom of expression is so important however this should not be offensive, nor likely to cause serious ethnic tension or unrest in our society.


Sometimes, the offensive remarks seep from the media, or social media, we shouldn’t keep quiet about it we have to address our concerns to the publisher or broadcaster and to the social media provider.

In New Zealand, there are three main organizations that hear complaints about statements in the media and advertising:

  • New Zealand Press Council.
  • Advertising Standards Authority
  • Broadcasting Standards Authority

New Zealand has set a role model of love and care to the world and that was very obvious after March 15, the whole world praised us for our sympathy and courage, we showed the world how we genuinely care for own people.

After 15th March, I have been to many countries and many people told me that they want to come to New Zealand, they want to see New Zealanders. That is you and me. They want to meet the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

That is us on the international level.

We have to continue to show the world and our future generations how to care for each other and how to show love to each other.

I want New Zealand and New Zealanders to decorate the world Record with the love that we share with each other and with the rest of the world. 

I want New Zealand to be completely free from racial discrimination.

We have been through a terrible thing together in this country. The only way we can heal is to love one another and to continue the role model we have set to the entire world. The whole world is watching New Zealand to learn from us, because they know we are all one.

Finally, remember to love each other. Hate will not divide us if love unites us.

Thank you.



  • Some ideas and materials of this speech have been inspired or taken from different sources and materials of some websites and world leaders who inspired me during my career as imam.
  • www.asa.co.nz
  • bsa.govt.nz