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Welby and bishops build bridges after Woolwich murder

24 May 2013


Interfaith visit: the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks at a press confeence outside the Masjid Umar mosque, in Leicester, on Friday

Interfaith visit: the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks at a press confeence outside the Masjid Umar mosque, in Leicester, on Friday

THE "brutal murder" of a soldier in Woolwich on Wednesday, in a suspected terrorist attack, had "no place in Islam", the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Friday.

Drummer Lee Rigby, aged 25, who had been in the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was hacked to death by two men shouting "Allahu akbar" ("God is great") in Artillery Street, near Woolwich Barracks, on Wednesday afternoon.

Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, a local Cub Scout leader, said that one of the men told her that they had committed the attack "because he's a British soldier and he killed Muslims". Two men were subsequently shot and wounded by police. The BBC has reported that one of the suspects, Michael Adebolajo, "is said to come from a very devout Christian family but converted to Islam after college".

Speaking to reporters outside the Masjid Umar mosque in Leicester on Friday, during a visit to the diocese, Archbishop Welby, who is official patron of the Christian Muslim Forum, said that people had been "horrified" by the "brutal murder" of Mr Rigby.

"I want to recognise the response of churches, mosques, and other faith and civil society groups as well as those of brave individuals who've done so much to bring our communities together at this time," he said.

"The strong response from the Muslim Council of Britain and many other organisations has rightly emphasised that these acts have no place in Islam. I want to commend very strongly what they're doing locally and to encourage Christian leaders more widely to do the same. This is very much a time for communities to come together."

The Prime Minister said on Wednesday evening that there were "strong indications" that the attack in Woolwich was a terrorist incident. After chairing a meeting of the Government's emergency co-ordination group, COBRA, on Thursday morning, Mr Cameron said: "The people that did this were trying to divide us. They should know something like this will only bring us together and make us stronger."

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said on Thursday: "Plainly it was a horrific incident. . . [Everything] I have seen and heard this morning leads me to conclude two things: one, that those guilty will be brought speedily to justice; and, secondly, that Londoners can get on with their normal lives today." 

The Bishop of Woolwich, the Rt Revd Michael Ipgrave, the Archdeacon of Lewisham & Greenwich, the Ven. Alastair Cutting, and the Rector of Woolwich, the Revd Jesse van der Valk, visited the Woolwich area on Wednesday evening.

St Mary Magdalene's, Greenlaw Street, one of the two churches in the Woolwich parish, which is near to where the attack took place, was open on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday afternoon and evening.

Bishop Ipgrave said on Thursday morning that he had been in touch with Woolwich Barracks, and had spoken to people outside a mosque. They were "deeply shocked and a little apprehensive about how this story will be presented".

He said: "There are historically, and, at present, very strong relations between different faith communities and the community in general. It is a very diverse bit of south-east London; there is a resilience which I hope will see us through, and I hope won't be exploited by people trying to stir up hatred, which is exactly what the perpetrators of this attack were trying to do."

Bishop Ipgrave said that the attack had been watched by many passers-by because it had taken place on a busy road during a busy time of day. "It was such a shocking event that it has taken time for the reality to sink in. . . There is a lot of sadness and shock."

Close friends of Mr Rigby attended a service of prayer at St Mary Magdalene's on Thursday evening, which was also attended by the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, as well as Bishop Ipgrave and other local clergy.

Speaking on Friday, Mr van der Valk said: "We felt privileged to have them there. They were carrying flowers, which they were going to put at the spot where their friend died."

Mr van der Valk said that people in Woolwich were "very upset that a soldier has been killed. [Woolwich] Barracks are very much part of the life of our town; they've been here 350 years. We are very sad and upset. It is going to leave a lasting mark on the town, and that's something we'll have to cope with in the days to come."

Mr van der Valk said that police officers and members of the media had been stationed outside his rectory, which was "literally 100 metres" from the site of the attack.

He attended a meeting of faith leaders on Thursday evening at Woolwich Town Hall, hosted by the Leader of Greenwich Council, Cllr Chris Roberts, and the Metropolitan Police Borough Commander for Greenwich, Richard Wood. "I raised the issue that I thought young people in the area were concerned, and to some extent frightened, because there's uncertainty about what's happened and a little bit of fear about this sort of thing happening again."

Mr van der Valk said that the police had offered assurances that they would do everything that they could to ensure that "extreme right-wingers", such as the English Defence League (EDL), did not cause trouble. On Wednesday evening, about 200 EDL supporters had gathered in Woolwich, chanting anti-Muslim slogans, and throwing bottles at police.

Faith leaders were quick to condemn the attack and to dissociate it from Islam. A statement from the Faiths Forum for London, which includes Christian and Muslim leaders, said: "All of our religions exalt the sanctity of human life, and no grievance could justify such a barbaric assault that has cost a young man his life."

The Muslim Council of Britain said that the "truly barbaric act" had "no basis in Islam, and we condemn this unreservedly". The Chief Imam of North Manchester, Jamia Mosque, and the Secretary-General of the World Islamic Mission, Allama Qamaruzzaman Azmi, said: "These people are not Muslims. There is nothing Islamic about them. They are simply pure evil. They have no place in our society. No place in our religion. And they must not be allowed to carry out such horrific attacks."

Faith leaders in Leeds, Manchester, Peterborough, and Sheffield, including C of E bishops, also issued statements on Thursday, condemning the murder.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, said on Thursday: "Individuals who commit such crimes in the name of religion or politics stand at odds with the compassionate shared values which we stand for as a society. Such acts aim to divide our communities, and I call upon everyone to remain calm and united."

On Friday, a book of condolence was opened at Leicester Cathedral.

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, on Thursday questioned why it was "being deemed a terrorist attack". He wrote: "If someone did something similar whilst shouting about being Jesus, would it be seen as criminal or terrorist? And would the EDL response - to attack mosques - be paralleled by attacks on churches by angry atheists? And would anyone try to legitimise or explain it, rather than simply condemn it outright?"

The Revd Lorna Hood, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which is meeting this week, led prayers on Thursday morning for Mr Rigby's family.


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