Ibrahim Abdelhalim was at his mosque last week in the Linwood neighbourhood of Christchurch, New Zealand, delivering a prayer as he usually does on Friday afternoons. The 67-year-old grandfather had already spoken about “tasting the sweetness of faith” as a Muslim obedient to God and willing to serve humanity.He heard a pop-pop-pop in the distance. The sounds got louder. Abdelhalim realized they were gunshots, but he continued. Abruptly ending the holy words mid-sentence would show a lack of respect in the face of God, he thought.Abdelhalim immigrated from Egypt to Christchurch in 1995. The small city in a far-away island nation, some 16,000 kilometers from the poverty and corruption of Cairo, gave his family a better life. It sits in a tableau of pristine mountains and rolling fields, a place where he often forgot to lock his front door at night. Whatever was happening outside would probably be okay. Still, there were more than 80 people in the room in front of him and so, he said, “I tried to finish the prayer quickly.” Then the bullets came crashing through the window of the mosque. They sprayed into bodies. People screamed, diving atop each other in jumbled piles. Abdelhalim saw his son but could not make it to where he lay. Further back, at the partition for women, Abdelhalim’s wife was also pinned down by gunfire, shot in the arm. Bullets thudded into a friend next to her, killing the woman. In the land that had become his sanctuary, Abdelhalim suddenly feared he was about to watch his family be slaughtered.Police later named Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, as the alleged shooter in the massacre last Friday, which claimed 50 lives and left as many wounded. Tarrant posted online a screed espousing white supremacist ideology and hatred of immigrants, authorities say. So far charged with one murder, Tarrant was remanded to custody without a plea Saturday, and is due back in court next month, when police say he is likely to face more charges.The country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, described a very different New Zealand in an address after the carnage. “We represent diversity, kindness, compassion,” she said, her voice at times cracking with emotion. “A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it.” Many victims in Christchurch had sought just that – leaving Somalia, Pakistan, Syria or Afghanistan for a better life, often with little in their pockets. Abdelhalim spoke of the city as a dream made real.In Cairo, Abdelhalim said, he’d worked as a judge specializing in inheritance and tenancy cases. He lived in a well-heeled suburb, his parents a teacher and a government employee, his brother an officer in the Egyptian military. But he did not see the future he wanted for his three children in Egypt. Cairo had witnessed a president being assassinated by Islamic militants in 1981, and a string of bombs exploding in and around the city in 1993. So the family moved to Christchurch, and Abdelhalim took the only job he could find, as a clerk at Work and Income, the government agency for employment services and financial assistance. “I tried to study law, but found it was very hard to begin again,” he said.Nevertheless, his children were going to good schools and his family moved into a small brick home, where he still lives, with roses in the well-trimmed yard. A neighbour invited him over for tea, he said, “nearly every day.” The family got to know the woman at the post office, a local shopkeeper and just about everyone else.Far from the chaos of Cairo, Christchurch is a place where men in straw hats and vests take tourists down the placid waters of the Avon River. It is a city of parks with birds chirping and a streetcar clanking past Cathedral Square.Abdelhalim’s life grew along with the city. He opened a restaurant, named for his old home, Cairo. He became active in the Muslim community, working as the imam at a mosque called Al Noor.When terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York in September 2001, Abdelhalim was the head of a local Islamic association. At the time, he said, there was a flare up of young people yelling at Muslims and trying to grab women’s headscarves. Abdelhalim responded by organizing community events at the mosque. In 2017, he took part in opening a multi-faith prayer space at the airport. “My only weapon,” he said, “is my tongue.”He also helped start and agreed to be the imam, the religious leader, of the Linwood mosque as its doors opened early last year, though it was across the city from his house. The building, a former community centre, sits amid signs for the Salvation Army, a pawnshop, the Super Liquor and the Value Mart. Its presence was a marker of growth in the city’s still-small Muslim community.It was at another mosque, Al Noor, that the gunman first began shooting. He shot at men, women and children as he emptied one clip of ammunition and then the next, circling back to shoot once more just to be sure he’d killed as many Muslims as possible. He took more than 40 lives there. The gunman then got into his car and drove to Linwood, where Abdelhalim, a man with a carefully cut white beard, was beginning to pray.In the back of the mosque, a 27-year-old man from Afghanistan named Ahmed Khan peeked out a window. The plump-faced Khan and his family had arrived in Christchurch 12 years earlier, leaving behind a nation torn by war.“Someone called ‘help!’ and when I looked out the window, somebody was laying down, bleeding,” he said. Khan’s eyes flitted across the driveway and spotted a strange figure – a man wearing a helmet, standing in broad daylight with a rifle in his hands.