UK Birmingham's Muslims And Sikhs Debate Response To Tragedy

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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004

UK riots: Birmingham's Muslims and Sikhs debate response to tragedy

Emotions run high at candlelit vigil for three men killed in riots as Asian communities weigh up how to react

When the prime minister, David Cameron, said on Wednesday that the riots had brought out "some of the best of Britain", he could not have known how fitting that description would be of events on a petrol station forecourt in a Birmingham suburb 12 hours later.

Spilling out in the road beside the Jet garage, where three Asian men were killed on Tuesday night, about 300 Muslim and Sikh men gathered to debate how they should respond to the tragedy.

There were no politicians in sight, no community spokespeople or religious leaders. These were local men, struggling to manage their grief and anger.

Candles marked the spot where Haroon Jahan, 21, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, had died. The three were part of a group of about 80 guarding the petrol station, on Dudley Road in Winson Green, when they were victims of a hit-and-run. A murder inquiry has been launched.

After prayers and a silent vigil, men took turns to express their views. There had been fears that the meeting held after the last Muslim prayer of the day, Isha'a, would be a flashpoint, sparking more rioting.

It was clear from snatches of conversation that there were a few in the crowd who wanted revenge on the black community, whom they held responsible for the deaths. They did not prevail.

It is hard to explain how the men reached their conclusion. After half an hour, the consensus among most was that there should be no march, in part because it would be disrespectful to the families of those who died. Not everyone agreed, and it was impossible to know whether dissenters would break away later and seek retaliation.

However community relations in Birmingham play out in the weeks to come, the meeting on Dudley Road will serve as evidence of the determination among many not to allow violence to spiral.

Standing on the wall of the forecourt, one Sikh man, Harpreet Singh, 28, began by imploring others not to take to the streets. He said they had gathered to pay their respects to the deceased and to prove they were united. He announced that the families of the dead did not want the group to march on the city centre, as had been planned.

"We need to tell the media we will not tolerate the tyranny, but we will not react either. We are capable, but we will not do it," he said.

He concluded that there were two possible outcomes – that they would protest, and the media would label them "extremists", or that they would act "nobly" and be seen as a community united. He added: "You decide. I will stand with you all the way."

Some in the crowd, both Muslims and Sikhs, agreed. Others did not, insisting they had come to protest.

"I say peacefully march, man," one voice shouted. Another said: "Let's do a march – but keep it peaceful."

"Yeah, but it won't stay peaceful," interjected someone else. "I know my brothers, it won't stay peaceful."

An hour before the debate started, the atmosphere had been highly charged, as groups gathered for silent prayers for the dead men.

The crowd consisted mostly of young men, many of whom had hoods pulled over their heads – a handful with scarves concealing most of their faces. There were older men, too, and some community elders.

Police kept a low profile at the edge of the gathering. A few held their hats under their arms as prayers were said.

Speaking before the debate about whether to protest, Shaheen Kayani, 46, a cab driver from nearby Hodge Hill, said the Muslim community was pulling together to prevent trouble.

"Everybody says to their sons: please don't start another riot. People don't want trouble any more. I just say we want peace, peace, peace." Some of the younger contingent sniggered as he spoke. They were the same teenagers shaking their heads later, as the tide of opinion turned against street protest.

Some urged a reaction. "They've killed them for free, bro," said one. Others made racist comments about the looters. But when a man pointed his finger in the air, shouting: "We are going to protest to let them know how we feel," he was shouted down.

After more debate, one man stepped forward and lifted his voice above the murmurs: "Make sure you're not marching in the name of the three brothers that died. Because if you're gonna march… in their name, and you're rioting, it is a disgrace."

There were grunts of approval. Several people said they would go home. A handful of the masked youths walked away. Those who remained stood in near silence, heads bowed as they listened to Sikh and Muslim prayers.

See video at this link


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Aug 18, 2010
World citizen!
Tariq Jahan's is the patriotic voice of a first-generation Muslim migrant

In responding to the death of his son in Birmingham, Jahan reminded me of my late father's loyalty to his adopted homeland.

Tariq Jahan told reporters how he tried to revive his son after he was knocked down by a car in Birmingham.

Tariq Jahan has been hailed as a voice of reason. Only hours after holding his dead son in his arms, the grief-stricken father has provided hope for a peaceful resolution to a most horrific tragedy. His voice, full of pain, urged his community to stay away from any reprisal attacks for the killing of his son Haroon and two fellow young Muslim men.

If Jahan's is a voice of reason then his message is of patriotism. Jahan is of my late father's generation. They belonged to the first generation of Pakistani Muslims who migrated in large numbers during the 60s, 70s and 80s to find economic prosperity in the land of their once masters. For many, the plan had been to seek the riches that they could only dream of in the villages back home and return as made men to a life of bliss.

Of course, it never quite worked out like this. While in Britain, these men saw beyond the short-term gain that a return to village life with relatively vast sums of money would bring them and their expanding families. Britain offered stable jobs, relative prosperity, healthcare and the freedom as a minority to practice their faith openly by allowing the building of mosques and community centres. Their children had a chance to gain education and attend universities – a dream for many village and even city folk in Pakistan.

My father also told me that subconsciously there was also a great appreciation of the law and order that Britain had. It was a far cry from the endemic police corruption and unpredictability that is a hallmark of a Pakistani villager's life.

Having seen both sides of the proverbial coin these men are fiercely protective of their adopted homeland. They cherish the stability and the peaceful lives they are able to live. It makes them proud to be British. In some instances, more so than their children who are born here. It is noticeable that the actions of some hardline young Muslims who turn to fundamentalist teachings are almost always at odds with the views of their parents, many of whom have seen less fortunate times.

I experienced this personally when as a conflicted teenager I adopted a deeply anti-British stance, much to the disapproval of my father. My dad would often say: "You'll realise one day how fortunate you are that this is your home."

It has taken the experience of a postgraduate education and the company of classically trained religious teachers to make me realise my fortune in being born and bred in Britain. A statement from one of my teachers that is found in classical Islam is relevant here:

"Anyone who wishes ill for his leader and his society is a fool as your fate is never inseparable from theirs."

Perhaps Haroon Jahan, Abdul Musavir and Shazad Ali also knew this – and they paid for such allegiance with their lives.

In responding to the deaths of the three young men, Jahan was solemn in suggesting: "A day from now, maybe two days from now, the whole world will forget and nobody will care."

If anything, the deaths of Haroon and his friends should live as a reminder that despite the claims of some, the vast majority of Muslims in Britain also care about their country and their communities. So much so that their sons gave their lives to protect them.

Faisal Hanif


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