Muslims in Manchester: community feels the strain after bombing
Saddened and shocked, many fear retaliation following Monday’s suicide bomb attack
Deep sadness and fears of a backlash have enveloped the Muslim community in the greater Manchester area in the days since a young jihadist, Salman Abedi, carried out Monday’s suicide bomb attack at Manchester Arena, killing 22 people and injuring scores more.
Manchester-born Abedi (22) was the son of religious parents who fled the Gadafy regime in Libya and is thought to have prayed alongside Islamic radicals who travelled to fight for terror groups in Syria.
Reports suggest that he recently became radicalised. Police are investigating a recent trip he took to Libya and whether he received training in bomb-making and handling explosives before his return.
At a mosque where Abedi prayed in Didsbury near his home in the Fallowfield area in south Manchester, one of the imams, Mohammed Saeed, said that Abedi started praying less often there after the imam delivered a sermon against the Islamic State terror group.
“Salman showed me a face of hate after that sermon,” Saeed has said.
Outside the Didsbury mosque and Islamic centre in Manchester on Thursday, Greater Manchester police had parked a mobile video van in an attempt to ward off potential reprisal attacks.
Inside, a group of non-Muslims from various parts of the greater Manchester area, calling themselves the “Peace Chain”, were volunteering to help the community after the mosque had to close the previous day due to the frenzy of interest from the media. It prevented people from going about their daily worshipping.
“I live across the road and I am a non-practising Muslim,” said Sadia Bashir (52). “I have been here for 24 years and I have never set foot in this mosque but I am so upset for it being closed for worshippers.
“I just thought it is not right and I wouldn’t want anything to happen here or to the people because this is my community.”
An arson attack on a mosque in nearby Oldham in a suspected race hate retaliatory attack in the hours after the Manchester Arena attack prompted Jade Marchington (31) from Rochdale and Susie Langdon (39) from Stockport to set up a Facebook page and help out at the mosque in support of the Muslim community.
“People were calling me a terrorist sympathiser – ‘you are scum, you need to leave this country’,” Langdon told The Irish Times.
“They were saying: ‘Why don’t you send them back home?’ The man was born in Manchester. They are disgusting comments.”
“I had some hate mail but I have had far more love than I have had hate,” said Marchington.
As the group talks, members of the Muslim community hand out buns, pastries and cups of coffee to the Mancunians who have come to support them.
“We have had huge outpourings of love so Manchester’s stance on this is love,” said Marchington. “There are a couple of hate-filled people but it would only take a couple of hateful people to endanger this community coming here to worship.”
People are trying to blame the faith. That’s the easiest thing to do. That is a cop-out
The Muslim worshippers in the Didsbury mosque don’t really want to talk about Abedi beyond a press statement issued on Wednesday. “This act of cowardice has no place in our religion,” said one line in the statement.
“The situation can be misrepresented,” said one man at the mosque, reluctantly revealing his opinion on Abedi and his attack. “Doing whatever he has done doesn’t represent the community.”
Misguided religious beliefs
Prominent members of the city’s Muslim community have reacted with revulsion to Abedi’s attack. “There is not one person I have met who has not condemned and is absolutely disgusted by what has happened,” said Rehan Salim, programmes manager of Human Appeal, a Muslim faith-based organisation.
“From an Islamic tradition perspective, it is completely impermissible what has happened. It hits the hearts of many people. On top of that,being so close to home in Manchester, it has really hit people hard.”
Salim put Abedi’s motives and those of other young Muslims who have perpetrated attacks in the name of Islam down to misguided religious beliefs and strong feelings about US and UK foreign policy.
“Many of the attackers were very limited in Islamic knowledge. They were very new to the religion. They didn’t have any sort of scholarly advice. They had a very shallow knowledge of the religion,” he said.
Abedi was described as a regular Manchester youth who enjoyed drinking and going out until about a year ago, when he became more private
“Many of these people may be from particular countries and feel that there has been an attack on their civilisation and for them the only way they can express themselves is by doing something silly like this.”
Abedi was described as a regular Manchester youth who enjoyed drinking and going out until about a year ago, when he became more private. His father, Ramadan Abedi, a security officer, and his mother Samia reportedly returned to Libya, leaving Salman and his brother Ismail living at home alone.
“Many of them [jihadists] were unemployed, drinking and in clubs, the complete opposite of how a Muslim would normally be conducting themselves,” said Salim.
Mohammed Ullah (32), a Muslim chaplain at Manchester’s two universities, said that Muslims were saddened and shocked by the Manchester Arena attack but concerned about possible reprisals.
“They are fearful of a backlash or finger pointing, or people saying: ‘Well, this is to do with your people, your community, you need to do more,’” he said.
“Islamophobia is on the increase, people being abused, people being spat at. This is what we are fearful of and I think rightly so. I have seen a shift from empathy and compassion to one of blame and finger-pointing and about retribution and that is sad.”
Standing in Manchester’s Albert Square – the scene of Tuesday night’s vigil to the 22 victims of the attack – Ullah warned against people rushing to blame Islam or members of the community.
“That’s the problem. We don’t know why it is happening. People are trying to blame the faith. That’s the easiest thing to do. That is a cop-out. Let’s just blame the religion. Let’s blame Islam,” he said.
The Muslim community was doing all it could to root out extremists and that expecting imams to identify young radicalised Muslims would impose an impossible task, he said.
To expect imams to spy on people in their mosques would be “too harsh”, he said. “If you are asking the Muslim community to tell people or the authorities when somebody is bad . . . how can we? We don’t know these people. They are on the fringe,” he said.
“How can you monitor one being, one person’s views? If he was brought to the attention of the imam, then I’m hoping he took the right steps,” said Patel.
“What we do in Blackburn if any students are heading towards radicalisation, we direct them to the ‘Prevent Agenda’ [the UK government’s counter-extremism programme].”
Standing next to Renee Rachel Black, a Jewish member of his inter-faith group, Patel says that Abedi “100 per cent doesn’t represent” the views of the Muslim community.
“These atrocities that are happening in the name of faith is not agreed by any faith or any holy scripts whatsoever,” he said.
“It is an individual belief and view, and they are doing it in the name of faith when there is no faith.”