My name is Bariz Shah. I am a 23 year old former refugee from Afghanistan. We moved to NZ on 11th of August 2001. 

I am the current President of the University of Canterbury Muslim Students Association (UCMUSA). Before my role as a President in our 200+ Muslim student community, I served as the Sports Executive. 

Alongside my current role as the President, I am a co-ordinator for Nawawi Center. We run a monthly youth program called 'Rising Leaders' for youth aged 12-18. This program is really successful in the development process of the young men.

The Christchurch Mosque Shooting was a really difficult time for me as a leader, because I had to keep my composure whilst maintaining my strength for the sake of my community. 


UCMUSA volunteer work

We aim to offer an environment for students where they can increase their spiritual, mental and physical well-being. The events that we organise are not only focused on students, but they are also focused at serving the wider Christchurch community.

Below are the list of events we have held in 2019 and some events which stood out more than others have been elaborated on further. 

  • Welcoming BBQ for over 300 people at the University.

  • Leading the burial of the Christchurch Mosque Shooting victims.

  • Distributing food parcels for families of the deceased.

  • Holding self-defence classes for women in the Christchurch community.

  • Premiere of an anti-Islamophobia film, with over 250 viewers.

  • Hosting a renowned scholar, Habib Kadhim, for the Christchurch community and especially for the families of the deceased looking for spiritual closure. 

  • Hosting sports tournaments for students and the wider community.

  • Organising the Trike and Spider riding club to give rides for the young people of the Muslim community and hosting a BBQ for the clubs as a thank you gesture. 

  • Leading the burial team.

Islamic values states that first right of burial is for the immediate family and then the locals. UCMUSA have been involved with the Canterbury Muslim community, therefore when the attack happened, we were asked to lead the burial team. A team of 15 young men helped with the burials. This was an extremely difficult time for me because not only did I have to lead during these tough times, three of the people who were martyred I knew really well, two of whom I mentored in the Rising Leaders program. 

Looking back at the event now, I feel quite honoured to have been able to bury our martyrs. It is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. An experience that I will hold on to and reflect upon during times of difficulty. 

 

Self defence classes for Muslim females

Prior to the 15th of March tragedy, female Muslim students at the University of Canterbury and the wider Christchurch community were confident that New Zealand is a place of peace and harmony. Unfortunately after the attack, many of the women are feeling really anxious whilst being outside and have mentioned that they have lost their confidence and sense of security. 

UCMUSA recognised this lack of security and understood that self-defence classes would be the best solution for them. The programme which is run by Axis Jiu Jitsu, is the perfect programme as it is run by women for women, which is suited for Muslim women. UCMUSA provides transportation for the women involved, to and from the venue. 

Not only do the women attend the weekly sessions but they are also provided with a safe space at the University afterwards, in order for them to reflect with their peers, build bonds and trust among one another. This event has been really popular and we are planning to start upon the starting of second semester. 

 

Trike and Spider motorcycle initiative

Members of the Trike and Spider Motorcycle Club gave rides to Muslim youth. 19 Trikes and Spiders rode from Deans Ave Mosque, Masjid Al Noor to Majid Linwood. Then they rode to Governors Bay, where the UCMUSA team had prepared a BBQ for the community. This initiative was great as it brought two communities with different backgrounds together. It erased the fear that Muslim children felt about white men. 

This initiative brough communities together and was a chance for us to celebrate our similarities instead of focusing on our differences. 


Rising Leaders volunteer work

The Rising Leaders program was established because growing up, I lacked the guidance of good mentors. This lack of guidance caused me to stray from my true self. Although I learned very much from my time being astray, it did waste a considerable amount of time in my life. Therefore, this program was established to use adventure-based activities to strengthen their sense of brotherhood, spirituality and self-leadership. The first two qualities will naturally lead to the youth being able to lead themselves with confidence. 

Our program had been really successful however, due to the mosque shootings, we lost two of our key members. Although this tragedy caused us all a lot of grief and sorrow, we decided to use the event to work even harder to increase the brotherhood amongst ourselves. To work even harder to live a more spiritual life and to strive to be a better leader. 

We continue our monthly gatherings and we continue to remember the ones we lost. Three brothers who lost their brothers continue to attend the program and have amazed us with their strength. The tragedy has left a hole in our hearts but we believe that we can restore the sense of emptiness through these gatherings. 


Concluding thoughts

Being a full-time engineering student who is married and volunteering most of my free time to my community, has been my greatest accomplishment. No award can replace the sense of satisfaction I feel when I serve my community. However, it does get quite difficult financially. Although it does get difficult to manage finances, I would not change a thing.

 

Additional reads

Otago Daily Times

Newsroom 

Hope in the face of adversity


Bariz Shah

Engineering Student – University of Canterbury

President – University of Canterbury Muslim Students Association 

Co-ordinator – Nawawi Center

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Hope in the face of adversity

14 January 2020

The Christchurch mosque attacks have inspired two Afghan-Kiwis to help others.