UK

Woolwich Attacks: Mosque Offers Tea And Biscuits, As Leaders Stand Defiant Against BNP Protest Threat

31/05/2013 17:43 BST | Updated 31/05/2013 18:28 BST

Muslim children going to mosque in Woolwich should never feel ashamed or afraid to express their faith in modern Britain, MP Sadiq Khan said on Friday as a coalition of leaders gathered for tea and biscuits with the Woolwich community at the mosque.

The Greenwich Islamic Centre put stalls along the main road, offering cups of tea, or more popular glasses of cool juice in the hot sun, along with platters of custard creams.

Imans chatted to local clergy, and worshippers stayed behind after Friday prayers to speak to Christian, Sikh and Jewish representatives who came to show solidarity.

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Religious leaders lay a wreath outside the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich

The community is certainly tense. On Saturday, more than ten days after the brutal killing of Drummer Lee Rigby, the BNP plan to defy a police ban to march through Woolwich and protest outside Islamic buildings, and leaders are bracing themselves for ugly scenes.

Inboxes have been flooded with nasty emails, but the positive ones mosque leaders have received have given them hope, one iman said.

"Our boys play football every week at the army barracks," said Dr Tariq Abbasi, director of the Greenwich Islamic Centre. "If someone says to us, you aren't integrated, you don't have links with the community, the army, they are wrong. Of course we do.

"Every week we have people coming in from there. And we were going to cancel the football after the tragedy, and they said, no, please don't, life should go on. So we continue, our boys will play football as normal."

After the refreshments, religious leaders including the former Archbishop of Southwark, the Bishop of Woolwich, a senior rabbi, politicians including Khan and local MP Nick Raynsford and anti-fascist campaigners laid a wreath which spelt "PEACE" in white flowers in the sea of bouquets outside the barracks, which was earlier visited by the Queen.

Khan, shadow minister for London, warned there was potentially more ugliness to come. "There are going to be trigger points that come over the next few weeks, they'll be trigger points today, tomorrow's demonstration, the funeral, the arrests."

But he continued: "It's half term and there's a lot of children at the mosque today. Those men hijacked the religion we belong too, they used those words Allah Akbar, a phrase we use when something good happens.

"I do not want those children in the mosque here today to be ashamed, or to be nervous about expressing their faith. And the solidarity shown here is so important, it gives those children confidence, as a British person, a citizen, and a Muslim."

"Lee Rigby's family summed it up better than all of us can," Julie Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Britain said. "I could never have given the message in such a powerful way as them.

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Former Archbishop of Southwark, Kevin McDonald (left) and Imam Ali Omar lay a peace wreath outside the Royal Artillery Barracks

"There are 60 million people in this country. Muslims are worried, they are afraid of what will happen but you have to think, so what? What are a few hundred idiots? We know millions of people don't feel this way. We won't allow a few people to divide us."

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior Rabbi of Reform Judaism, said that she wanted "something good to come out of this terribly destructive act" that was not just a token "gesture".

"Walking down the road, I felt anxious about asking where the mosque was. I felt like I was walking in someone else's shoes, just for a moment," she said. "I have been asked if I'm here just as a gesture. It is not about that. First, I want to offer practical help, and I also want to reiterate our similarities, our words for peace, greeting and wholeness are so similar, we say Shalom, you say Salaam."

Anti-fascist campaigner and director of Hope Not Hate Nick Lowles said he actually took heart from how much solidarity he had encountered. "It's easy to get carried away with the noises of hate, but I actually think that despite the terrible things that have happened around the country, Britain hasn't bought it. The extremists haven't won. People understand a religion isn't behind the actions of two people.

"Only today we sent an email for people to add their names to a statement that said, we are the moderates, we are the many. And we got 30,000 people to sign it in a few hours. People want to do something positive, not going out shouting on the streets."