People gathering to protest against the attack on Muslim worshippers leaving the Finsbury Park Mosque in London.

THE crowd gathering behind the thin blue line looked quite familiar, like a reunion but on a grim and sad occasion.

These were familiar faces behind the thin blue lines at Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and Grenfell Tower.

Members of the press had started gathering since the early hours of the morning when the story broke that a man in a van had rammed Muslim worshippers leaving a Finsbury Park mosque after terawih prayers.

This is a story with a twist.

A white man yelled that he wanted to kill Muslims as he rammed his targets.

I worked my way to the front of the line, just in time to see Jeremy Corbyn, Finsbury Park Mosque imam Mohamad Kozbar and community leaders walking towards the press to give a statement.

There was a one-minute silence broken by the sound of the London underground over the bridge.

Just two days before the incident, people of all faiths had gathered to remember Jo Cox, the Labour member of parliament, who was stabbed to death last year for speaking out against racism and facism.

“We met (here) to remember Jo Cox to honour and celebrate the affirmation that we have more in common than we have different things that differentiate us.

“Less than 48 hours later, the same area experienced an attack aimed at killing Muslims returning home from their Ramadan prayers,” said Kozbar, sadness in his voice.

“An attack on one’s faith is an attack on all faiths and communities.

“Those who tried to divide us and who aim to spread fear, hate, division will not succeed,” he said.

This message of unity and solidarity was to be echoed by other faith leaders at a time when members of the Muslim community wanted to hear assurances and guarantees that they could continue to live and practise their religion safely, especially in the remaining days of Ramadan and during the Eid celebration.

“As Muslims, we have two main responsibilities: one is towards God to worship him, the other is to your fellow human being.

“We must not be afraid to go and perform our duties and, at the same time, spread the true message of Islam,” said imam Arif Khan of the Ahmadiyyah Muslim community, who had become a family figure at grim occasions such as this.

Mingling among the crowd was another familiar figure, that of Rabbi Abraham Pinter, who acts as a spokesman for the orthodox Jewish community.

“We are very concerned about what has happened.

“We need to stand in unity with everybody. It doesn’t matter where they are from,” he said, before joining Corbyn entering the mosque via the back entrance.

The press was divided into two groups.

Those who went after Corbyn and another who waited for Prime Minister Theresa May to come out of the front door of the Finsbury Park Mosque after her meeting with faith leaders behind closed doors.

Without a press card, I was
at first denied going behind the line. But perseverance paid off and I soon found myself behind hefty cameramen with their big cameras and powerful lenses.

It was one of the hottest days in London with temperatures reaching 32°C, and temperatures outside the gates of the mosque were also rising among journalists fighting for space.

After a long wait, May appeared and rushed down the steps into her waiting car, all the while being heckled and booed by the crowd.

After the Grenfell Tower blaze, she could do nothing right.

She was heckled for making a late appearance at the site where the number of victims was rising, and she was heckled for making an early appearance.

For Corbyn, it was like visiting old friends at a mosque where he himself witnessed the laying of the foundation of the building about 30 years ago.

Indeed, as a member of parliament for Islington North since 1983, he had been involved in numerous activities with the community.

Corbyn spoke to Muslim women who he felt, being visibly so, were easy targets for abusive and racist attacks, which had spiked since the referendum for Brexit last year.

While condemning the attack, Corbyn delivered a message that every Muslim wanted to hear — that there would be increased security for mosques in the United Kingdom.

“We are getting support to protect our mosques, just as much as we protect our synagogues and churches and temples, because an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us.

“I also want to ensure that there is protection for people on the street, on the buses and on the trains,” he added, seconded by his shadow home secretary Diane Abbot.

After the attack, videos and messages from right-wing groups had appeared online, applauding the attack by a man, identified as Darren Osborne from Wales.

Indeed, the East London Mosque, one of the biggest mosques in London, had received a threat, which later appeared to be a hoax.

Mohamad Habibul Rahman, chairman of the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre, told me that Islamophobic reactions like this were quite common.

“It is very worrying to see this kind of tit-for-tat reaction. We have been telling our Muslim community to be vigilant, not to be alarmed, but to be aware that these things can happen and to take extra precaution,” he added after the meeting with Corbyn.

I managed to get through the police cordon, albeit escorted, to the Muslim Welfare Centre, where the group had been praying before being attacked.

It is the mosque my son and other Malaysians go to before or after an Arsenal match.

I had joined a group of Somali women to perform zohor prayers.

In spite of what had happened, these women came out in groups to gather in the small hall, where the mood was solemn but the spirit was defiant.

In the coming days and nights leading to the Eid celebration, the incident outside the Muslim Welfare House will certainly be at the back of their minds, but it shouldn’t prevent them from going out to perform their duties and celebrate one of the most important days in the Muslim calendar.

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