Aya Al-Umari said she feels like her brother will beaccompanying her and will constantly be in her prayers when she travels toMecca next month to take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Al-Umari is one of 200 relatives and survivors from theChristchurch mosque shootings who are traveling to Saudi Arabia as guests ofKing Salman. The king is paying for all travel and accommodation costs, a billlikely to run to over USD 1 million.
The Saudi ambassador to New Zealand, Abdulrahman AlSuhaibani, on Friday said farewell to the pilgrims at the Al Noor mosque, oneof two mosques where a gunman killed 51 people in March.
Al-Umari said the ambassador handed out special clothes forthe men to wear during the pilgrimage and told the women they would be givenkits when they arrived in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Umari's 35-year-old brother Hussein was among thosekilled. She said it's an honour that King Salman is sponsoring the trips, afact reinforced in her visa documents stating that she's travelling as a guestof the custodian of the two holy mosques.
"It came at such a perfect time and it helps with thegrief as well," Al-Umari said.
"It's such a humbling thing to be given. I always had,personally, as a goal before I get married, to Hajj. Now it's been given to uson a plate. I feel it's a blessing from Hussein that is looking after me and myfamily."
She said she was initially nervous about the trip, and won'tknow many of the others going because so many of her friends were killed duringthe March massacre.
"It's a tough journey to do, Hajj," she said."There are quite a number of factors. There's lots of walking, and theweather — it's quite hot. But these are all surface things, and the holiness ofthe whole pilgrimage will overtake the toughness of the journey."
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and allable-bodied Muslims are required to perform it once in their lifetime.
During the five-day pilgrimage, millions of Muslims circleIslam's most sacred site, the cube-shaped Kaaba, and take part in ritualsintended to bring about greater humility and unity.
Al-Umari said she travelled with her brother and parents toMecca as a child for the umrah, or what she describes as the mini-Hajj.
Lateef Alabi, the imam of the Linwood mosque whereworshippers were also killed during the March attacks, said it would be histhird trip to Mecca but his first time for the Hajj.
He said he was delighted with how first the New Zealandgovernment and now the Saudi king were doing what they could to help the Muslimcommunity of Christchurch heal.
"It's putting good in the place of bad," he said."Over time, people will get over the pain. But it will take years, andthey will never see their family members again."
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist,has pleaded not guilty to terrorism, murder and attempted murder chargesfollowing the March attacks. He remains in jail ahead of his trial, which hasbeen scheduled for next May.