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Discovering Unity in Diversity: Meeting the Maori Community in New Zealand

I heard of the Maori for the first time. Think of them as the Aborigines for Australians or the Native Americans for Americans. They are the indigenous people of the New Zealand islands, constituting 17% of the population as of today. According to historical sources, they have Polynesian origins. Polynesians have settled in a vast area, including Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Samoa, Tahiti, Hawaii, and Easter Island.

They are a warrior and resistance community, highly valuing their freedom. This is why they have always been in constant struggle with colonial peoples, primarily the British. They have their own language, which is officially used alongside English. In 1840, New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, established an official partnership between the Maori and the British Crown, making New Zealand a bicultural country. They are very sensitive about preserving their culture, to the extent that there is a strong encouragement for companies established in New Zealand to incorporate motifs from Maori culture into their logos or corporate buildings. These motifs encompass both traditional and modern eras.

They have religious beliefs; they believe that spirits reside in mountains, rocks, seas, and virtually everything. They do not accept coincidence and believe in a supreme creator. From what I have seen and read, their belief in the creator seems to align with the monotheistic belief in God in Islam. Due to this similarity or proximity in belief, there are even some Muslims among the Maori. I met one of them, Matthew.

Our friends there had the opportunity to meet the Maori living near the city where they reside. In the upcoming days, they are planning a 4-day residential program in the Maori’s sacred places. We, along with our spouses and children, went there to both introduce ourselves and see the venue for the program. We were a total of 21 people. They welcomed us with a semi-formal ceremony. However, they mentioned that the program I referred to would involve a full formal welcome, and they would wear traditional Maori attire. They themselves mentioned this. They offered us breakfast. Both the speeches made before breakfast and the prayers that followed reminded me of the saying “one soul in two bodies and two bodies in one soul.”

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The Māori settlement of New Zealand represents an end-point of a long chain of island-hopping voyages in the South Pacific.

Here are a few sentences from the speech of the Maori leader: “We believe in the One Creator. We came from Him, and we will return to Him. Welcome. Welcome to the slopes of the sacred mountain. Welcome to the sacred river. Welcome to our midst. We honor our mothers, our elders, and our ancestors. We respectfully remember our forefathers who made our presence in this sacred place possible. We also respectfully remember the Creator who provided us with these crops. We thank you for visiting us. We also bear witness to the Creator in our togetherness.” It would be wise to conduct an in-depth study of Maori beliefs. Maybe it has been done, but I did not hear a single sentence in their speeches or prayers that contradicted the monotheistic doctrine of Islam.

I also offered a prayer there. If you’d like, I can share its Turkish version here. “Oh God! Today, we have come together as people from different lands and cultures under the limitless sky You have provided. Grateful hearts beat together under Your vast sky. We thank You for the blessings You have bestowed upon us, for the warmth of the sun, the gentle whispers of the wind, and the beauty of diversity enriching our lives. We acknowledge the power of togetherness, uniting us as one community with love and understanding, transcending all differences. Guide us on our journey of appreciation for each other, granting us wisdom to share from our unique stories and perspectives. Help us to see the divine presence in the faces of our Maori brothers, to recognize the gifts of friendship and brotherhood that bless our lives. May our hearts overflow with gratitude and the spirit of togetherness, with open hands to embrace others. May God protect us all in this world and the hereafter. Amen.”

Why do they host us in their sacred places? The reason is very simple, and this simple reason is, in fact, the essence of life. We live together, and we must get to know each other, show respect, and share with one another. That’s it. I wish this approach, which is expressed so simply and constitutes the essence of life, dominated human life. I wish! Look at the ongoing conflict in Palestine and Israel right now. The world is embroiled in a process where thousands of civilians from both sides are affected, and millions of people are forced to flee. We had witnessed the same scene in the Russia-Ukraine war before, and we continue to witness it. It’s déjà vu. Since the beginning of human history, from Cain and Abel onwards. I don’t know what we can’t share, but we can’t.

Let me say a few words about New Zealand. There’s a cliché saying: “In New Zealand, 5 million people live with 60 million animals.” It’s really like that. Animals everywhere, as far as the eye can see. We took road trips that lasted four hours to places within the country, and the landscape was teeming with small and large livestock. One of the country’s most important sources of income is livestock farming. Meat and dairy product exports are widespread, including to Muslim countries. There is only one institution that provides Halal certification: FIANZ, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand. This organization appears to adhere to Halal slaughtering strictly, possibly under government control and guidance. They told us that around 95% of the meat slaughtered in the country is Halal. This is likely due to both commercial interests in not losing that market and their respect for different religions. In slaughterhouses, the call to prayer is recited during working hours that coincide with prayer times, and Muslim butchers are given a break to perform their prayers.

If I were to write a separate article about New Zealand, it would be valuable, but the article has become quite lengthy. Let me conclude with this: Its original name is Aotearoa, which means “Land of the Long White Cloud.” It is filled with natural beauty to the extent that it can be considered the last stop before paradise. And, of course, what adds to this beauty is the few friends working tirelessly day and night around the “Pearl of the Islands Foundation” to serve humanity. Thanks to them, they exist. As Mr. Fethullah Gulen said, “The Pearl of the Islands” for New Zealand. This phrase, like many other places in the world, has become the name for organizations that have been serving the lands of New Zealand for years around that name.

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.

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