Blog London 5/22/17 After the Manchester Bombing
It is May 22 and the horrifying news comes in from Manchester.
There has been a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert attended by mostly young teenage girls and their families.
Police release pictures from a security camera of Salman Abedi the 22 year old suicide bomber sauntering into the concert in his £150 Nike trainers and trendy jacket on the night of the attack. A short time later Abedi killed 22 people and injured 119 when he detonated a bomb after the concert.
Isil calls on followers to rise up in ‘war’ on infidels in the West and
eight men are in custody “on suspicion of offences contrary to the Terrorism Act”
A few days have passed and the terror threat has been downgraded to severe and police say the investigation is ‘making good progress’ as they appeal for more information from the public.
We stay in Sheperd’s Bush, a diverse, but predominately Muslim neighborhood. It has many Muslim restaurants, Arabic writing on the shop signs, and a Mosque within walking distance of our apartment. It is common to see women in full niqab and men in kaftans shopping in the markets.
We talk to the Muslims we meet in our neighborhood, and in the shops and in the restaurants and in the trains. We talk to our Muslim Uber drivers, our Muslim landlord, we talk to the Muslims foundation leaders we meet. We talk to Muslims from Somolia, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, and Ethiopia.
They have different theories, “Perhaps he wanted to kill himself, but he did not want to die alone”, “Perhaps someone planned it who is against Muslims” “People are under so much stress they are just crazy”
It is clear the Muslims we talk to are as baffled as we are, and even more frightened. Some of them are so afraid they do not even want to talk about it. They also do not regard themselves as safe.
We ask the ones who have teenagers what the mosques are doing to protect them and to teach them.
Ghassan admits that he was worried about going to the mosque for Jummah prayers after the attack. He doesn’t know what to expect. His history of attacks from radicals makes these events come even closer.
Is the mosque safe? Will the public attack the mosque? Could some one bomb the mosque? Will there be radicals in the mosque? Ramadan is coming the next day.
He decides not to go to our local neighborhood mosque, but instead goes to the large Central Mosque.
The police are there. The London police carry guns now. Amanda reminds me that until recently the London police didn’t even carry guns.
When we meet up with Ghassan in a coffee shop later, we sit and talk over coffee and lemonade, and he is palpably relieved after going to the mosque. He said that when he first entered the mosque a number of the congregants were dressed as strict orthodox Salafis, which generally indicates they uphold a very fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, but after the prayers, when the Imam spoke, Ghassan came to understand that the Imam was advocating a very moderate perspective. The Imam told the congregation that they are members of the UK society and need to protect their home and their fellow countrymen and come forward if they knew any thing. He explained that the people who are most damaged by these types of acts are the Muslim community itself and he prepared them to enter the sacred month of Ramadan, which is a time of deep inner reflection for all Muslims.
After we talk we prepare to enter the train for our next meeting. It is rush hour and I realize I feel nervous about getting on the train, there is no security or metal scanners, features that I have come to expect in public places in much of the world, and as we squeeze on board our bodies are pressed against our fellow passengers. My heart begins to pound as I anxiously scan people with backpacks and look into the faces of young men, as the train carrying thousands of passengers zooms beneath metropolitan London, I wonder why choose a venue with young teenage girls as a target. Why? I close my eyes and pray for those children and their families and I remember words of the Sura al Fatiha and send it out as a prayer to all.
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way,
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.