Muslims fearful as attacks prompt hostility

 

COMMUNITIES REACT: The first bomb scare at the east London mosque since the suicide bombs in London was yesterday shrugged off by staff. But on Whitechapel Road outside, ordinary Muslims spoke of a pervasive sense of fear and how they felt they were being watched all the time.

"As a community, the main thing we feel is fear 24/7," said a 24-year-old Muslim woman dressed in a hijab and jilbab.

At 10.25am a receptionist at the mosque received an anonymous telephone call from a man with an English accent.

"The person on the phone said, 'Is that the east London mosque?' and the receptionist said yes and the caller said, 'There's a bomb in your building, you have half an hour to evacuate'," said Dilowar Khan, director of the mosque. "It was a very calm phone call. It wasn't abusive."

As the alarm bell rang, 200 people, including 160 children from the three schools based in the mosque and Muslim centre next door, quickly left the building.

Mosque leaders praised the police, who they said arrived within five minutes. No device was found and the building was reopened an hour later, in time for Friday prayers. Mr Khan said the threat was taken seriously because they had received 16 telephone calls in the last two weeks, three of which made reference to a bomb threat to coincide with Friday prayers.

Just as many Londoners are trying to avoid the tube because of fears of more suicide bombs, so worried Muslims are warning each other to stay out of central London, sometimes for different reasons.

Windows at the Mile End mosque, near the Whitechapel Road mosque, were smashed shortly after the first bombs two weeks ago. "After September 11th we felt the same, but after a while it did settle down," said Fatemah al Katib (23), a student originally from Lebanon.

"When you sit down on a train, people move away."

A 24-year-old woman, who preferred to remain anonymous said: "Muslim sisters feel they are in danger and suspected."

"Everybody is worried about bombs. Everybody is worried about everything, but most of all we are worried about how every day people are being threatened. We wake up and feel insecure. What is going to happen next?"

News of the shooting of a man of Asian appearance on the tube spread as local people milled around outside the mosque. For some Muslims, it confirmed their fears about the police response to the attack.

"Does that give the police any reason to go and shoot people in public?" said the young woman. "It's just ridiculous. It's not going to help - it's just going to trigger even more trouble." But many Muslims outside the mosque praised the police and said they accepted that being stopped and searched was the cost of terrorism.

On his way to Friday prayers, Ruhul Tarasfder praised the police but criticised the government's "evil ideology" rhetoric.

"It's not helpful to us that George Bush used the word 'crusade' and Blair uses 'ideology'. These people should be described as terrorists. They are nothing to do with Islam."