Solidarity Amidst Terror

No Comments | July 2017

Thousands gather to honour the victims of the Manchester and London Bridge attacks.

Photo credit: The Review of Religions

On 22nd May 2017, twenty-two people were killed and 116 injured in a suicide attack in the city of Manchester while attending a concert. Almost two weeks later, three terrorists drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then launched a knife attack, which killed eight people and injured dozens more.

Soon after the attacks occurred, vigils were organised in both Manchester and London to honour the victims. Thousands of Mancunians and Londoners of all faiths gathered to show their solidarity and pledge their love and loyalty to their country.

But yet again, the terrorists of both attacks claimed to do this in the name of Islam,  and so once again, they twisted the peaceful teachings of Islam into something harsh, unrecognisable and wholly un-Islamic. Thus hundreds of members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community attended the vigil, not only to unite with their fellow countrymen, but to condemn the merciless killing of innocent people. Many community members also wore shirts and held banners which read: ‘I am a Muslim – Ask me anything’ and ‘Love for All Hatred for None’ – part of a recent campaign to give others the opportunity to speak with Muslims while also explaining the real teachings of Islam.

Among those who attended were two young London-based imams, or missionaries, from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Farhad Ahmad and Zishan Kahlon, who embarked on an eight-hour journey to Manchester to show support for the victims after the attacks, and who then participated in the London Bridge vigil two weeks later.

The Review of Religions met up with Imam Farhad and Imam Zishan to interview them about the vigils after the recent terror attacks and learn more about the work they do as Muslim imams to promote the peaceful teachings of their faith and combat religious extremism.

Imam Farhad Ahmad

Hundreds of Muslims from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community attended vigils honouring the victims of the Manchester and London Bridge terrorist attacks, wearing ‘I am a Muslim, Ask me Anything’ shirts to invite dialogue and discussion from those who had questions about Islam.
© The Review of Religions

Farhad Ahmad is a missionary based in London and works with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community press office. As a missionary, he graduated from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s training seminary, Jamia Ahmadiyya, having spent seven years in deep study of Islam.

What was your immediate reaction when you heard about the attacks?
The immediate reaction was of shock as we had seen something similar taking place in Westminster a few weeks earlier. As people of the same county we feel extreme sorrow when we see our countrymen and women being harmed. However, the double grief on us as Muslims is that the name of our religion, a faith that teaches one to donate blood in order to save lives, is being misused to take innocent lives.

What made you go to Manchester for this vigil?

We know when these attacks are wrongly carried out in our religion’s name, people naturally begin to ask questions about the faith. There is an increase in hostility too, as can be seen from the recent report by the Greater Manchester Police published in The Guardian which says that there were 224 reports of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the month after the attack compared with 37 in the same period in 2016.

So these terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam do not just have a limited impact, rather the effects reach much wider and they create divisions within society.

We as Ahmadi Muslims wish to serve mankind from every aspect and wish to counter this trend by increasing Islamic literacy, by telling people what the true teachings of Islam are. So we made the 200-mile journey the day after the attack to show our condolences to the people of Manchester and also to tell people very clearly that we must fight hate and that the true teachings of Islam are not represented by these barbaric individuals.

As thousands gather for a vigil in Manchester, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community hold up banners with the group’s motto, ‘Love for All, Hatred for None.’

What reaction did you receive?
We spoke to a number of people at the vigil about how they felt and it was heart-warming to see that, despite the atrocities, people there had not turned to bitterness or vengeance. The mood was of course sombre for us all and filled with grief; however the unity and solidarity people showed to us as Muslims and generally as human beings was overwhelming. People from all backgrounds had gathered and many faith groups including Christians, Sikhs, Jews and Muslims were helping one another. Some were distributing water and others picking up litter. It was a reminder of the best of humanity. Many came and gave us hugs and assured us that their perception of Islam as a peaceful religion has not been changed and that what these people are trying to achieve – to divide us – will be resisted fiercely, as we stand united.

With so much uncertainty in the world and the United Kingdom, do you fear any backlash as a result of this?

The attack in Finsbury Park [when a man attacked worshipers leaving a mosque, killing one and injuring more] was extremely worrying as it could lead to a vicious cycle of violence, whereby this attack seems to be in revenge for attacks by so-called Muslims and now it is being reported that Daesh has already instructed its followers to take revenge. Thus the government, security services, and the public should remain entirely vigilant at all times. It is clear that we are passing through volatile times and so we need to stay united as a country and not let extremists destroy the fabric of our society.

It is clear that the security of the country is becoming increasingly volatile and so it is up to government to take firm measures to root out all forms of extremism.

We do not believe that any attack is ever linked to the teachings of a religion. Thus, when so-called Muslims have done attacks we made it clear that they were acting against Islam. Similarly, if it turns out that the attacker in Finsbury subscribed to any religion then it does not mean that he was influenced by his religion.

Islamophobia is a real worry. This is why it is important that government and media reinforce the message that any attacks done are not linked to Islam. At such times of crisis, it is important that the nation stays united and does not fall into the trap of becoming divided which is what the terrorists desire.

Imam Zishan Kahlon

Imam Zishan Kahlon is a missionary serving in London and is a graduate of the Ahmadiyya Muslim training seminary, Jamia Ahmadiyya.

What was your immediate reaction when you heard about the attacks?

When I first heard about the terror attack which occurred in Manchester I felt devastated and horrified. It shocked me, as I couldn’t believe that something like this would happen in my country.

What made you go to Manchester for this vigil?

I heard about the vigil taking place to remember those victims affected by the attack. I knew I had to go there and show my support. My contribution to the vigil consisted of standing in solidarity with every other person, regardless of race and religion. I felt even more inclined to go because of the recent attack which occurred at Westminster. London is my home and a city I love deeply, so I could relate to how the people of Manchester were feeling. Therefore, I drove up there with some friends to embark on an 8-hour return journey. We stood with the great people of Manchester to show that terrorism has no religion and that Islam is peaceful and loving. It was worth going there to show some support and pray for the people affected by this atrocity.

Members of different faiths pray together at the vigil in Manchester.

What reaction did you receive?

The atmosphere at the vigil was amazing; so many people from various backgrounds were there to show their support. As an Ahmadi Muslim imam I was shown so much love and respect for just being there. This goes to show the oneness of the community.

How did the vigil help unite people of that city?

People were there from all types of backgrounds, who put their differences aside to show that every single person’s life is as valuable as another. An attack on any one of us affects the whole country. Standing in solidarity helped emphasise the unity of the community.

With so much uncertainty in the world and the United Kingdom, do you fear any backlash as a result of this?

I don’t believe there is a way to avenge such acts. The purpose of these attacks is to divide a whole community, if we show them our unity they will not succeed. If there is any backlash, those people will be the same as the terrorists. We should all spread love and show unity. We need to stand up against any form of hatred. It is our duty to keep spreading the message of Love for All, Hatred for None.

 

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