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Moment that mattered: Drummer Lee Rigby is murdered in Woolwich

Ministry of Defence undated handout photo of Drummer Lee Rigby, 25, from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who was named today as the soldier hacked to death in Woolwich yesterday. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.


My first reactions to Lee Rigby’s murder were upset, sadness and anger. For an innocent citizen to be murdered in such a way leaves you lost for words. My wife was watching the news with me and she burst into tears, she just could not take it.

We knew that racists and extreme organisations would be looking for a scapegoat, and that there would be repercussions for Muslims. This proved to be the case: in the following days mosques were set on fire and people were attacked.

At York Mosque, we decided to engage with the protesters. On 26th May, there was an English Defence League (EDL) demonstration outside our mosque. We said to ourselves that we could either trade insults with them or we could do something completely different, and invite them in for a cup of tea and some biscuits.

So that’s what we did. Of course they started by shouting at us, so we allowed them to shout and release that extra energy. And then we said to them, ‘What are your problems?’ The first one was they were horrified with the murder of Lee Rigby. We said that we were also horrified, we were angry and ashamed as humans, not as Muslims, because this was nothing to do with Islam. We were ashamed that a British citizen committed such an act against a fellow Brit. So they said, ‘Oh, so you are against it?’ And we said, ‘Yes, we condemn it in the strongest possible way.’

Then they came up with their second issue – they started shouting: ‘No surrender to the Taliban.’ We told them that nobody with sense would ever surrender to the Taliban. No one would! So they said, ‘Are you saying that you are against the Taliban and their views?’ We said, ‘Of course we are!’

There was no real agenda after that. They talked a bit about paedophilia. We said, ‘If you think there are some Muslim paedophiles in the neighbourhood, go and tell the police about them, and if you can identify any of them who is associated with the mosque, we will personally go and take them to the police, we will not tolerate anything like that.’ There were no other real objections: they found that they were really barking up the wrong tree when they came to the York Mosque.

A few days later a lady who sided with the EDL and had come for a cup of tea and biscuits saw some  people from the mosque; she waved to them and exchanged very warm words with them. I said to myself, even if we have one citizen who sees the truth that we have nothing to do with such horrific incidents then we have won the day.

Theresa May has suggested since the death of Lee Rigby that some extreme organisations blamed for radicalising Muslims should be banned. But I have appealed to her that instead we should talk to people and see what their grievances are, what their point of view is, and tackle them intelligently.

I’m a professor in electronics and with my limited knowledge of Islam I have been able to defeat extremists’ ideas for many years. I’m sure people with more knowledge of Islam will do an even better job. We should debate extremists openly and defeat them where they are trying to prey on the innocent in universities and schools and neighbourhoods. We should not ban discussion, we should encourage it and defeat these people’s arguments because they lack depth and a grip on reality. The truth is we are all in this together.

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