ALL YE FAITH­FUL: what Christ­mas means to di­verse faith groups in New Zealand

As churches around the coun­try pre­pare to ob­serve Christ­mas, Fleur Meal­ing cel­e­brates the myr­iad ways in which Ki­wis ex­press their faith - and show­cases their houses of wor­ship.


Firoz Pa­tel and his fam­ily go to the beach on Christ­mas Day. With the sun shin­ing down in the South­ern Hemi­sphere it is hard to think of spend­ing the day any other way. How­ever, there is no giv­ing of gifts or spe­cial din­ner for Firoz and the New Zealand Mus­lim com­mu­nity he be­longs to; for them, it is not their day to cel­e­brate.

“For us it is like a fam­ily hol­i­day, we get to­gether as a fam­ily unit. We re­spect Christ­mas; Christ­mas is a Chris­tian hol­i­day that cel­e­brates the birth of Je­sus. It is an an­nual hol­i­day of the coun­try, so we abide by it,” he ex­plains. “The Qu­ran (Mus­lims’ holy book) re­spects both Je­sus and Mary by shar­ing the stories of Je­sus’ mirac­u­lous birth. Mus­lims be­lieve that Je­sus’ mother Mary is one of the best women of the uni­verse.”

Firoz is a se­nior mem­ber of the Pon­sonby (Al-Masjid Al Jamie) Mosque in Auck­land, the first mosque of New Zealand, which is also the

fur­thest point from Mecca. It was built in the 1970s when prop­erty in the area was af­ford­able; many Mus­lims who had im­mi­grated to New Zealand around that time set up home in Pon­sonby. De­spite much of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity since mov­ing to Mt Roskill and South Auck­land, Firoz says the Pon­sonby con­gre­ga­tion is still large, with about 450-500 at­tend­ing Fri­day prayers.

It is also the clos­est mosque to Auck­land’s city cen­tre and they find that many tourists will visit, whether they are Mus­lim or not.

“Our mosque is like the United Na­tions; we have peo­ple from In­dia, Fiji, Pak­istan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Ger­many, In­done­sia, Malaysia, Saudi Ara­bia, Morocco, France, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria... It’s a place where peo­ple come to­gether for prayers and when we stand up for prayer in front of almighty Al­lah you are all the same. You might be poor or rich, white or black, Al­lah just wants to know what’s in your heart,” says Firoz.

The Al-Masjid Al Jamie Mosque is not the only place of wor­ship on this small sub­ur­ban street. Di­rectly across the road is the Sa­cred Heart Catholic Church. Firoz ex­plains that de­spite their dif­fer­ent faiths they have formed a strong re­la­tion­ship. The two places of wor­ship meet twice a year to share a meal and ob­serve the other’s faith and cul­ture. The neigh­bourly spirit is alive all year round, and at Christ­mas Firoz says the mosque of­fers their car park for Catholic parish­ioners at­tend­ing mass over the hol­i­day sea­son.

De­spite not ob­serv­ing Christ­mas Day them­selves, Firoz says he and his fel­low wor­ship­pers share the be­lief that hol­i­days, re­gard­less of what re­li­gion you fol­low, should be spent with the ones you love.

“At Christ­mas time so many of my Chris­tian friends come to­gether. We do the same, as this is the only time you can have your fam­ily mem­bers all to­gether at one place,” says Firoz. “It’s a time when you bind your­self as a fam­ily unit and re­spect ev­ery­body.”


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