Muslims in London: 'It's the way they look at you, to see what you are carrying'

By Arifa Akbar
Published: 23 July 2005

"This is the backlash. It's begun, hasn't it?" said Mohammed Yaqoob, a Hackney resident and worshipper at the East London mosque that was evacuated yesterday after a bomb hoax.

"We're the baddies all over again, except now we don't just have to worry about dying in a racist or Islamophobic attack, we also have to worry about dying in a terrorist attack," Mr Yaqoob said.

The East London Mosque and adjoining London Muslim Centre, which houses three schools, were evacuated after a phone call was received at 10.25am. The caller told one of the mosque's directors that a bomb would go off in half an hour.

A dozen worshippers and more than 100 children fled the premises but were allowed to resume Friday prayers after police gave the all-clear an hour later.

The scare added to the fear and uncertainty in an area already shaken by the 7 July bombings. Mr Yaqoob, 23, a shop assistant, was not the only one in the Bangladeshi community to feel a sense of despair. Many in the area had lived through similar bomb scares in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

This time round, many are struggling with the dual fear of suicide attacks on their doorstep and the threat of an anti-Islamic backlash.

Worshippers at the mosque felt scarred by the atrocities of 7 July. They had attended the funeral of Shahara Islam, one of the victims of the bus blast at Tavistock Square, and comforted her family, who are regulars at the mosque. Now they were anxious about the rising levels of abuse against Muslims.

Yassine Mezri, 31, an Algerian who had sought refuge in Britain seven years ago, said he had never felt so vulnerable in London. "I haven't taken the Tube for two weeks," he said.

But his fear extended to the hostility he perceived to be stirring within the British white community. Although he had no outward signs of being a Muslim, he felt strangers were automatically suspicious of him. "It's the way they look at you. People look to see if I am carrying something. Muslims have many reasons to be scared for their safety."

But some young people's fears over safety were overridden by their anger at the actions of the four suicide bombers who killed 52 people in the name of Islam.

Nakib Islam, 19, a student from Whitechapel, felt the atrocity on 7 July had given licence to racists to victimise east London Muslims.

"I feel disgusted by those people who are calling themselves Muslims in order to kill people indiscriminately," he said.

Fatemah Alkatib, 23, a Iraqi-Lebanese university student, said she would not be beaten by the terrorists or the racists.

"Things were bad after 11 September but a lot of the tension had faded away. But after what's happened in the past two weeks, I know it's back again. But I don't feel afraid. I will carry on going to the mosque," she said.

Back at East London Mosque, members from its board of trustees spoke of "minimising the backlash". But in many Londoner's minds, the Muslim faith has become tarnished.

Mark Chalmers, 20, a student, said that he felt more suspicious of non-British Tube passengers. He said: "Just recently, a train I was in stopped in a tunnel near King's Cross and this guy who looked Middle Eastern had a rucksack by his feet. I just thought 'let me get to the next station and get out'. Two weeks ago, I would never have thought like that."


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