Manchester resident Shabnam Kulsoom says that following the exoneration of Didsbury Mosque by the Manchester Arena Inquiry over the radicalisation of Salman Abedi, MI5, the media and Tommy Robinson owe the Manchester Muslim community a huge apology.
On May 22, 2017, my brother – one of the heads of the da’wah department at Didsbury Mosque – was coming home from the mosque after his usual evening of voluntary work there.
But this particular evening he asked to be picked up by another family member due to an emergency situation of chaos and confusion that had occurred at Victoria Tram Station. Salman Abedi had attacked the MEN arena only minutes away from the station, and overspill was happening at the tram station because of terrified crowds running for their lives.
When I learned that the incident was confirmed as a terrorist attack, my immediate gut instinct told me: “They’re somehow going to blame Dids”- our nickname for Didsbury Mosque.
I relayed my feelings to my brother and said that they were based on the fact that it was a very popular mosque for Muslims, new-Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Its work in the community (thanks to volunteers in the da’wah department) was an example for other mosques to follow. Its outreach work varied from regular open days for non-Muslims to be educated on Islam to community outreach programmes.
Unfortunately, the da’wah department is now a shell of its former glory as a direct consequence of the negative focus on the mosque since the attack. Many of the ex-volunteers who grew the da’wah department to the success it became are still, to this day, hurting from it.
We saw the immediate vilification of the mosque by mass mainstream media from all over the world who converged on it within a day or so of it being named as THE mosque. We (the volunteers and regular attendees) were all deemed guilty by association.
The journalists’ faces said it all as they pitched themselves outside. Despite regular offerings of water and snacks as per Islamic hospitality, the tension from the media was in the air. They behaved like hyenas and unjustly attempted to defame the mosque in its entirety, based on a snippet of information that Abedi had attended the masjid less than a handful of times, and only for prayers.
With the media’s eyes fixed firmly on the outside of the mosque, we were inside calming the elderly sisters down who were in tears at having the finger of blame pointed at the community and attendees. They, nor we, could make any sense of the fact that this mosque that was our home from home, was being portrayed as a terrorist hotbed.
Tommy Robinson and his friends had also made their intentions to visit the mosque, and this was clearly frightening attendees as to the consequences and potential attacks on them and indeed the masjid.
If my memory serves me correct, Robinson came to the mosque at around Fajr time to put a projection onto the exterior when young children were in their classes, upsetting them in the process while playing the amateur, self-proclaimed investigative journalist. His sole purpose and intentions were to stoke up hate towards Manchester’s Muslims. In that respect, he failed, and with yestrday’s announcement, Tommy Robinson owes Manchester’s Muslims a firm apology.
Defamation of Manchester’s Muslims
In the days following the attack, myself and other sisters felt compelled to go out into St Anne’s Square to show a visible Muslim presence. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was walking on eggshells in my own city. We fed and consoled visitors at the vigil site that was strewn with bouquets of flowers and teddy bears. We felt we had to tell them how sorry we were for the heinous acts of one deranged individual, whose only link to us was that he happened to share our faith.
We stood outside the mosque in a show of solidarity in front of the world’s media, but some of us point-blank refused to hold up “I Love Mcr” placards at the request of the trustees. I was born and brought up in a small, white, working-class industrial town called Radcliffe in Manchester. Why was I being told that I had to publicly declare my love for Manchester when I am more Manc than a Manchester worker bee? We discarded those placards in front of them. “We’re absolutely NOT doing it.”
The image of Didsbury Mosque and that of Manchester’s Muslims was defamed for a number of years following the attack. Yesterday’s conclusion that MI5 – an agency of the government that is supposed to protect us and take preventative measures to prevent attacks – failed massively demonstrates sheer incompetence.
The finger of blame should have always been pointed at their failings first by virtue of being our so-called protectors. Instead, they were content for the narrative to be peddled in the direction of Muslims as a collective group. Let us also not forget, it is these goverment agencies that facilitated British Libyans and those of Libyan-heritage born in the UK to travel back and forth in order to topple Colonel Gaddafi.
So when it suited their objective they seemingly knew how to turn a blind eye. If Abedi was on their watch list as they say, why didn’t they throw everything they had into preventing him from carrying out the attack? Why wait until after the event? Surely prevention is better than cure?
We will always stand with the victims of this criminality, and send our condolences to the families over what seems an ongoing trauma to get to the truth. However, let us not forget that Muslims are also the victims in all of this – guilty by association.
If MI5, the media and Tommy Robinson have an ounce of humility in them, they will apologise unreservedly to Didsbury Mosque and the Manchester Muslim community as a whole for the damage they have caused – to a mosque, its volunteers and its attendees who did incredible work solely for the benefit of the whole of Manchester.