In the wake of the harrowing Manchester attack, the fact that we have to even turn to the city’s Muslim community and ask for their response – as opposed to anyone else’s – highlights the misconception about terrorism and Islam.
When I sat down with six of Manchester’s local lads, some volunteers from Muslim Aid another the Vice President of the University of Manchester Islamic Society, never has the mainstream representation been so incorrect.
The boys, most of them in their teens, opened up about their anxieties regarding looming A-level exams, their wide-ranging career aspirations, and a love for Manchester United.
They are no different from any other Oldham guys you would meet in the street, but because they are Muslims, that label carries a heavy burden.
Especially after the heart-breaking and barbaric attack by an extremist in the name of Islam, the public lean towards alienating British Muslim’s out of fear that they are in some way associated with extremism.
Aside from disclosing their anger at the tarring of their religion by those who, in their view, are completely opposed to its morals and values, the boys passionately voiced their admiration for Manchester’s loving, compassionate and cohesive response as a community.
When I asked them whether they feared racial tension after the attack, they were quick to list the endless selfless acts that their fellow Mancunians carried out when they were needed most.
Amas, the Islamic society’s VP, quoted Tony Wilson, proudly exclaiming: “This is Manchester, we do things differently here.”
Directly after the attack, we saw off duty taxi drivers coming out of their houses and going towards the scene, helping those who fleeing and helping them get home free of charge.
We saw doctors working overtime throughout the night saving lives, we saw restaurants offering free food to emergency workers.
The whole city united together at a pivotal moment in the city’s history and something to this scale had never happened before.
Everyone came together and were unified and were able to get through it that evening.
It struck a chord and shook a lot of us to the core, to happen in our home city of Manchester it is completely earth shattering.
Manchester’s reaction has been an inspirational one, but there is clearly a need for more education and communication between all different communities.
The solution that consistently came up was education.
‘Hatred arises from fear’ was repeated by everyone I spoke to from the Muslim community.
Every week on Market Street in Manchester, Muslims Against Extremism set up a stand in order to educate the general public on the true teachings of their faith, making the point that radicals are not part of their religion.
18-year-old Beinhameen Hussain from Oldham said to UNILAD:
From a Muslim point of view, you need to learn before you throw accusations. Come and speak to us, we’re an open community. Come to us, come to a mosque, a community centre, approach a Muslim in the street.
If you have a single question, we’re happy to answer. With sharing and learning, people will stop hating.
I feel like there is a block in communication, there is a ‘them and us’ culture, and non-Muslims think we’re closed off, but we’re not.
After the Brexit referendum, over 14,000 hate crimes were recorded in the UK between July and September 2016.
There has been an overwhelmingly positive response since the Manchester attack, however a mosque in Oldham was set on fire, and Muslims were spat at during the vigil by members of the public.
— CharlotteChelsomPill (@charlottejourno) May 23, 2017
Adnan, from Muslim Aid, was calling for all communities to come together:
If the community is strong then this stuff wouldn’t happen because everyone would know what was going on.
Now everyone has their singular life, they go to work, come home, no one communicates with anyone. Everyone is on social media, but no one talks in person.
— P.A.C.E. Project (@paceprojectuk) May 24, 2017
Nazmul Ahmed, who told me of his dreams to be a journalist, said:
We may look different to people who are non-Muslim, we might talk a bit different, we might act a bit different, but we’re the same as everyone else.
We’re citizens of Manchester, we’ve grown up here our whole lives and we’re people of this city. We love the city just as much as you do.
If you don’t know about Islam, come and speak to us, do not fear. I feel like a lot of hatred comes from fear of the unknown. Often if you don’t know something, you hate it and you’re scared of it.
We’re like you, we’re human, we’re not different because of religion. We feel happiness, sadness, anger as well.
If we realise we can all connect as humans with the same emotions, then we can all get along.
Amas was ‘utterly shocked’ at the racist response from public figures like Katie Hopkins, saying:
Hatred arises from ignorance. Islam is not represented by this attacker. This attacker does not represent Islam in any way whatsoever.
To take one person’s life is like taking the whole of mankind according to Islam. He doesn’t represent us. Those who were helping and giving afterward present true Islam
— CNN International (@cnni) May 23, 2017
Take a second and think about what your preconceptions about Islam are. Where did they come from? What are they based on?
Those of us who feel we could understand better should do something about it – so let’s take action.
Attend Mosque open days, open up our communities so that the unknown becomes the known, speak to people who we don’t usually engage with.
The best way to fight extremist groups like IS is to come together. A unified, understanding and cohesive Britain is no good to them.