Christchurch Memorial Service
How long, how long
Has this Peace Train been gone?
Yusuf spoke from the heart when he addressed the crowd gathered in Christchurch’s North Hagley Park for the National Remembrance Service to honour and commemorate those killed and wounded in the atrocity on the 15th March. He praised the unity that the people of New Zealand have shown after having been confronted by such a despicable act of evil. “We learn about things through their opposites”, Yusuf explained, contrasting their love and kindness with the act of terror that occurred two weeks earlier. It was also with deep sincerity that he extended his prayers to “those shining souls whose lives were snatched away” as well as to their families.
Then, accompanied by his good friend Bruce Lynch, a New Zealander and his bassist from the Cat Stevens days, Yusuf delivered a short but powerful performance. He opened with an extract from ‘Peace Train Blues’ that clearly resonated with the calm sea of faces that stretched out before him on a bright and warm Friday morning. The song’s poignant lyrics were swept across them by the gentle breeze, “Why must we go on hating, why can’t we live in bliss?” Yusuf then performed a stunning version of his timeless anthem of hope, ‘Peace Train’ which was celebrated by a generous round of applause that signalled a profound connection with the song’s message.
Before commencing with his final song, Yusuf once again praised the spirit of the New Zealanders, “This is really a song which could be said to reflect that wisdom that it’s only when good people stay sitting that evil rises. we’ve seen the opposite in this country, may God bless you all.” He then launched into a spirited version of ‘Don’t Be Shy’ which was uplifting both in that it had the entire gathering on their feet but also in that it left them with a much needed note of optimism – one that also serves as a powerful message to the whole world when faced by the forces of darkness.
“Love is better than a song, Love is where all of us belong”
Yusuf’s address in full:
Our hearts go out to the families of those whose lives were snatched away in that evil carnage while they were worshipping in the Mosque two weeks ago.
We learn about things through their opposites and it’s through opposites like this, the evilness of that act and what drove it, we find its opposite which is the love and kindness and unity which has sprung up right here in New Zealand. And, that love and unity is actually what all the Prophets and Messengers of the Divine taught.
The last Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that all of the Prophets are brothers. Their mothers are different but the religion is one. And, I think that’s the message which a lot of people who have, or profess faith should come back to, because that is the centre. And, our prayers go to those shining souls whose lives were snatched away in that moment of madness may peace be upon them. Peace in this world may take a bit longer.
I’m gonna sing a song for you now.
After the service Yusuf joined the Muslim community of Christchurch for Friday Prayer. Rather than being held in a Mosque it was conducted in the open air in North Hagley Park under the watchful eye of armed police in a display of unity and defiance. When asked what it was like to take part in the prayer Yusuf declared “It was one of the most moving of experiences”, he continued stating that “the unity that I’ve found in New Zealand I haven’t seen anywhere else, it’s beautiful.”
Yusuf met with dignitaries, the other performers at the memorial service and most importantly with some of the survivors and the families of those killed in the terror attack. Later in an interview with New Zealand’s 1 News he told of meeting with the parents of a boy called Tarik who had lost his life on that fateful day. Clearly fighting back tears of emotion Yusuf recounted how they had told him that on the night before Tarik had been singing ‘Peace Train’, and of his classic hit he went on to say “I wrote that song so many years ago and yet it’s still so profoundly relevant”. In a separate interview, this time for The Press newspaper, he further explained that sometimes the meanings of his songs are only revealed much later on. He singled out one particular line as having affected him deeply during his performance, “Now come and join the living”.
During his performance Yusuf proudly wore a pounamu pendant given to him by Ngāi Tahu, the principal Māori iwi of the southern region of New Zealand, that symbolises eternal friendship and the joining of cultures. He was full of praise for way in which the country has sought to foster harmony between its different communities. Again in his interview with The Press, he celebrated “the way in which the indigenous population is part of the culture and is preserved, honoured and respected.” He was also keen to share how impressed he has been by the government’s swift action on gun control following the horrific Mosque shootings, “It’s amazing, it shows it can be done and so she’s (Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern) my hero.”
It is clear that Yusuf has a complex relationship with being portrayed, predominantly in the media, as an ambassador for the Muslim faith in the West. Humility has seen him avoid playing too much into that narrative, however, he also recognises that he is perhaps uniquely placed to build bridges and share the true message of Islam, “This event brought me out to pick up that same kind of mantle. It’s a bit heavy. I don’t necessarily want to carry it but it’s necessary, and it’s good if I can do some good with my presence and my songs and my words.” Most crucially, however, he was there for the victims and their families. On the day after the service Yusuf visited and prayed at the Masjid al-Noor Mosque (meaning Mosque of light), the epicentre of the horrors that unfolded on 15th of March and coincidentally where Yusuf had prayed on the last day of his 2017 tour which concluded in Christchurch. He shared his condolences and love with the whole community and had this message for them, “Salaam alaikum, peace be with you and may God make it easy for you because the difficulty is for the ones who have been left to suffer the absence of their loved ones. The hard bit is living without.”