UK riots, turning point for British Muslims?

While British Muslims have disproportionately been the victims of the riots – the compassion and dignity shown by the victims to their assailants shows them in a very different light, one that could change perceptions of Muslims altogether.

Yesterday l attended the very moving funeral service of the three young men killed in Winson Green, Birmingham. Haroon Jahan and brothers, Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir all died after being hit by a car during the rioting. I also attended a rally last Sunday for a United Birmingham rally before the game at the Hawthorns where the players wore black arm bands. Yesterday, I wanted to show some solidarity with the grieving families who in such difficult times have shown immense compassion and dignity, and it’s something one can only admire, explaining why l wanted to return after last week. 

In his hour of desperate emotional support, Tariq Johan, one of the fathers, made an impassioned and eloquent speech calling for all races in Birmingham to come together. Some of the moving words included some Muhammad Ali like prose ” …..Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise calm down and go home  ” But he may have not just averted further rioting in Birmingham but also placed Muslims in a different light. A community not often projected well since the Muslim references made in the media headlines after 9/11. We even found EDL joint leader Kevin Carroll, making respectful remarks about his comments at their Telford demo last week, such was the impact of his words. 

Some of the Pakistani women at the funeral inferred this much as well in their conversations, pointing out that when terrorism is involved, we are Muslims but when we are victims of crime we suddenly become Asians. 

Tariq Jahan said “l can’t describe to anyone what it feels like to lose your son. I miss him dearly but two days from now the world will forget, no one will care” Well he was not forgotten.  Along with his two other friends, they were remembered by more than 20,000 people who showed to pay their respects at the joint funeral service at Summerfield Park off Dudley Road.  This was a fitting testimony to their memory. 

On top of this community loss, we also had the Malaysian student, Ashraf Haziq. He was mugged on the Monday night of the riots in Barking, London after only arriving in the country for further studies a month earlier. He was mugged by youth posing as good Samaritans which were filmed and put on You Tube, the clip becoming an over night sensation. Ashaf also expressed compassion and dignity in his own geeky manner, when he said “Britain is great. Before l came here l was very eager and l don’t have any ill-feelings about what happened” He could have easily said otherwise and potentially lost the further education sector of the UK, 10,000 Malaysian students. Instead he was incredible generous to our shores given his “welcome” in Barking. 

So while Muslims have been high profile victims of these UK riots, the personal responses to attacks by the victims, their relatives and friends may well change perceptions of Muslims in wider British society for the better. Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi at the funeral service remarked so much, saying that British Muslims were at a turning point.  As one of the most poignant victims of the riots, they have as a group, been able to project themselves as compassionate and dignified.   Let us hope this legacy is not forgotten.