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.”
AL-MASJID AL JAMIE MOSQUE