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Leaders leap to Muslims’ defence

31 May 2013


Place of pilgrimage: on Tuesday, police officers guard flowers left at the site in Woolwich where Drummer Lee Rigby was killed

Place of pilgrimage: on Tuesday, police officers guard flowers left at the site in Woolwich where Drummer Lee Rigby was killed

CHURCH leaders have spoken out in defence of British Muslims, after a wave of attacks on mosques, in the wake of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, on Wednesday of last week.

It was reported this week that, since the murder of Drummer Rigby, almost 200 incidents of Islamophobia had been reported to the specialist hotline Tell Mama. There have also been a number of attacks on mosques during the past week, including the fire-bombing of Grimsby Islamic Cultural Centre on Monday.

A statement was issued on Tuesday by Christian leaders in Lincolnshire, including the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Chris­topher Lowson, describing the attack in Grimsby as a "horrific and foolish act against a peaceful worshipping community. . . After our horror at the events in Wool­wich and this attack in Grimsby, we pray for, and encourage, fri­endship, and not violence, as the first response to a crisis."

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, described as "fantastic" the response of the York Mosque to supporters of the far-right English Defence League, who turned up to protest outside it on Sunday. People from the mosque offered the protesters tea and biscuits, and invited them to play football inside. "Tea, biscuits, and football are a great and typically Yorkshire combination when it comes to disarming hostile and extremist views," Dr Sentamu said.

Christian and Muslim leaders were quick to condemn the attack on Drummer Rigby, and to dissociate it from Islam. 

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, co-chair of the Christian Muslim Forum, of which the Archbishop of Canter­bury is a patron, said on Sunday: "The Muslim communities of Britain, like the rest of the country, are shocked and appalled by the horrific murder in Woolwich. The murderers chanted slogans during their heinous crime, claiming to do it in God's name. Far from it. As our Prime Minister rightly concluded, this is a betrayal of Islam. Indeed, this is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn it utterly and unreser­vedly."

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 Chief Imam of North Manchester Jamia Mosque and 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 of last week: "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."

The Senior Minister of State at the Foreign Office and Minister for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi, told The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that there had been concerns in the Government about community unrest after Drummer Rigby's murder. "Instead, we've come out united, resolute, and unreserved in our purpose," she said. "We Muslims are revolted by what we've seen."

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, on Thursday of last week, questioned why it was "being deemed a terrorist attack". He wrote on his blog: "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 "brutal murder" of a soldier in Woolwich last week, in a suspected terrorist attack, had "no place in Islam", the Archbishop of Canterbury said last Friday.

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

Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, a local Cub Scout leader and practising Roman Catholic, who approached one of the men in the street, said that he had 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.

It has since been reported that two suspects, Michael Adebolajo, aged 28, and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale, aged 22, were raised in Christian families, before converting to militant Islam. The family of Mr Adebolajo issued a statement on Tuesday expressing "horror at the senseless killing" of Drummer Rigby; it said that there was "no place for violence in the name of religion or politics".

Speaking to reporters outside the Masjid Umar mosque in Leicester last 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 murder of Drummer 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," Archbishop Welby said.

The "strong response" from organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, which condemned the attack as "truly barbaric", had "rightly emphasised that these acts have no place in Islam", the Archbishop said. "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."

Later in the day, Archbishop Welby signed a book of condolence for Drummer Rigby in Leicester Cathedral.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wrote inThe Daily Telegraphon Monday that there was "no sense in blaming Islam" for the murder; he described it as "a religion that gives consolation and enrichment to the lives of hundreds of millions of peaceful people".

The Prime Minister said on Wednesday evening of last week 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, the following 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 Bishop of Woolwich, Dr 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 of last week.

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

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

"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."

Dr 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 Drummer Rigby attended a service of prayer at St Mary Magdalene's on the evening of Thursday of last week. Speaking last 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."

The service was also attended by the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, as well as Dr  Ipgrave and other clergy from the area.

The Rector 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 media reporters had been stationed outside his rectory, which was 100 metres from the site of the attack.

He attended a meeting of faith leaders on Thursday evening of last week 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 of last week, about 200 EDL supporters had gathered in Wool­wich, chanting anti-Muslim slogans, and throwing bottles at police.

Press reports this week suggested that Drummer Rigby's funeral might take place at Southwark Cath­e­dral. No announcement had been made at the time of going to press.


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