Notes & Comments – The Maori People1 Comment | March 2014
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While I marvelled at the significance of the Khalifah’s entire tour through New Zealand – as part of his ongoing tremendous effort to meet and connect with people of all cultures to foster peace – I particularly enjoyed learning about His Holiness’ exploration of and interaction with the indigenous Maori culture and community in New Zealand. I was inspired and touched when the Khalifah met the Maori King, Tuheitia Paki, at the Turangawaewae Marae, which is a very sacred complex for the Maoris and headquarters for the Maori King. The complex is used as the venue where the King or Queen host highly revered world figures who visit New Zealand (e.g. Queen Elizabeth II and Nelson Mandela are among those who have been welcomed into the Turangawaewae Marae). It was at this complex where not only His Holiness was welcomed and honoured by the Maori King and his people, but also where His Holiness presented the Maori King with the first ever Maori translation of the Holy Qur’an – Islam’s holy scripture.
This trip to the Turangawaewae Marae by His Holiness brought back many memories of the three months I had spent in New Zealand in 2005 for work purposes. I recalled the fortunate opportunity to meet Mr. Shakeel Ahmad Munir, the man who undertook the enormous task of translating the Holy Qur’an into the Maori language. He graciously welcomed me into his home, which was next to the building that was being used as a mosque at the time. While drinking tea, he showed me his work and explained his incredibly inspirational story of coming to the country to learn the language, in order to translate the Qur’an’s Arabic script into Maori. It was nothing short of amazing.
This has become a hallmark of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which endeavours for all people of the world to benefit from the infinite wisdom and guidance housed within the Qur’an. The Arabic word Qur’an itself means a book that is meant to be read and conveyed to people. To this end, His Holiness has expressed the mission of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to share the beauty and Divine wisdom of the Qur’an in all languages of the world. During his address at the Turangawaewae Marae, His Holiness stated: ‘The Qur’an teaches people how to live together in peace and certainly today we need love, peace and reconciliation to spread far and wide – that is the message of the Qur’an.’1
His Holiness’ words follow the message of the Promised Messiahas, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who stated: ‘The Holy Qur’an is the springhead of real blessings and is the true source of salvation.’2 For this reason, the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has translated the Qur’an into more than 70 languages – more than any other single Muslim organisation in the world.
While in New Zealand, I endeavoured to engage in travel and sight-seeing as much as possible. This gave me an opportunity not only to learn more about New Zealand and its history but also to learn about the native Maori people and culture. In particular, I enjoyed my experience in Rotorua, a city on the North Island about 140 miles southeast of Auckland by car. Rotorua is primarily known for its geothermal activity, hot bubbling mud pools, geysers and hot thermal springs – which along with the botanical gardens, provide for great sight-seeing activities. The initially pungent smell of sulfur in Rotorua is quickly forgotten as one experiences fascination for the unique natural beauties of this city.
One of my most memorable activities in Rotorua was when I visited the Tamaki Maori Village on the outskirts of the city – a highly acclaimed tourist activity that aims to give visitors (who are grouped into ‘tribes’) a glimpse into the historic culture and way of living of the Maori people. Upon arrival, everyone greets each other with the Maori greeting of ‘Kia Ora’ (pronounced kee-ora), which wishes a person to be well and healthy. We also learned how to greet one another with the hongi – a traditional greeting in which two people press their noses and foreheads to one another. This is the same greeting that was exchanged between the Maori King, Tuheitia Paki, and His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba, during his visit with the King at the Turangawaewae Marae.
After all the tribes arrived outside the village, they were gathered outside the marae for the ceremonial welcome by the village. Everyone stood to the side while each tribe chief stood in the middle of the courtyard to receive what is called the Powhiri, or a welcome ceremony that entails not only singing but, more prominently, a fierce welcome challenge performed by a warrior wielding a large spear-like weapon. The Powhiri was also performed for His Holiness when he arrived to meet the King as is a common ceremonial welcome at maraes and formal gatherings. Such ceremonies and preserved villages offer a robust glimpse into the proud and historic Maori civilisation as it would have existed before European settlers began arriving in the 1800s.
The Maoris have a rich culture, which has been preserved centuries after New Zealand was colonised by the British. Their King and ceremonies are significant because the native culture of New Zealand has not only been preserved but also accepted in modern society. People of native Maori decent have more of a presence and prominent role in society as compared to the native populations of other countries. Unfortunately, the Native Americans and the Aborigines of Australia, for example, have not had their identities, cultures and histories preserved in their lands to the same degree.
Although possessing no legal authority in the New Zealand government, the Maori King symbolises a certain unity of the Maori people. When established in 1858, this position of authority was meant to be a counterpart to the British monarchs, but the rule of the King has never truly united the Maori people, as the history of the Maori dynasty exhibits significant dissension and factions. Today, although all Maori tribes do not recognise the King as their ruler, he is still considered the chief of many important Maori tribes and, thus, an important figure within the Maori culture. The Maori King now makes appearances on significant occasions, such as the opening of a facility or a funeral of a chief. According to the New Zealand Herald, the King speaks publicly only once a year,3 which made his willingness to meet with the Khalifah a significant moment. His Holiness met with the King in order to foster greater levels of understanding and kinship and thus, establish peace and equitable relationships among all peoples. This is based on the Islamic injunction to enjoin charity, goodness and peace among and between all peoples.
So great was the impact of this visit between these two leaders that the Maori King also graciously decided to visit the grand opening of the new mosque that His Holiness came to inaugurate in Auckland. This unprecedented visit by the King demonstrated the friendship and respect that had been established between him and the Khalifah.
As I learned more about the Maori people, what appealed to me was the Maori belief in the oneness of everything that exists. They subscribe to the belief that all human beings are related to one another. This reminded me of the teaching from Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah and Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who once wrote ‘We belong to the same denomination of God’s species and are referred to as humans. Furthermore, as inhabitants of the same country, we are mutual neighbours. This requires that we become friends to each other, with purity of heart and sincerity of intentions. We should dispose kindly to each other and be mutually helpful. In the difficulties pertaining to religious and worldly matters, we should exercise such sympathy towards each other as if we have become limbs of the same body.’4
The Maoris believe that humans are related to all living beings and creatures that come from the Earth Mother. This belief builds a powerful spiritual and mystic sense of connectedness among all of God’s Creation. This reminds me of the Islamic concept of taking care of the environment and all of God’s Creation. It is recorded that the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa once said: ‘If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and men and beasts and birds eat from it, all of it is charity on his part.’5 Thus, we are reminded that we all are the creation of the Almighty and it is our responsibility to take care of all of His creation.
I deeply value the Maori people I met during my short stay in New Zealand and I am glad they were blessed with the opportunity to meet His Holiness. It is my hope and prayer that we will continue to learn from one another, see our commonalities and strengthen our bonds of love and kinship.
1. “Press Release: Muslim Leader Presents Quran to Maori King,” AlIslam.org, 29 October, 2013, http://www.alislam.org/egazette/press-release/muslim-leader-presents-quran-to-maori-king/.
2. Translated from Malfuzat, Vol. 7, pp. 181
3. “Maori King speaks of challenges,” The New Zealand Herald, 22 August, 2011, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/te-reo-maori/news/article.cfm?c_id=336&objectid=10746653.
4. Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, A Message of Peace (Tilford UK: Islam International Publications, 2007), p.5.
5. Imam Nawawi, Riyadh as-Salihin (Gardens of the Righteous), Translated by Muhammad Zafrulla Khanra, (London, UK: Curzon Press Ltd, 1975), p.35.