CAIRO – In an attempt to ease tension following a machete killing in London, Muslim leaders in the city of York have invited members of the far-right English Defence League (EDL) to a tea session for dialogue.
"There is the possibility of having dialogue,” Mohammed el-Gomati, a lecturer at the University of York, told The York Press newspaper.“Even the EDL who were having a shouting match started talking and we found out that we share and are prepared to agree that violent extremism is wrong.
"We have to start there. Who knows, perhaps the EDL will invite us to an event and the Muslim community will be generous in accepting that invitation?"
The invitation followed rising tension in the wake of last week’s machete killing of an army soldier by two converts of immigrant origin.
The EDL has organized a series of protests, blaming Muslims and their religion for the killing.
One the protests was organized in front of York mosque, in which around half a dozen people showed up.
Leanne Staven, who had come for the protest, said that she had not come to the mosque to cause trouble.
"We need a voice," she said.
"I think white British who have any concerns feel we can't speak freely.
"Change has been coming for a long time and in light of what happened to that soldier in Woolwich there have to be restrictions on people learning extremist behavior and it has to stop," Staven said.
Instead of confrontation, mosque members invited the EDL protestors for refreshments; tea and biscuits, to open a dialogue.
As some EDL supporters accepted the invitation, tension eased over tea and plates of custard creams, followed by an impromptu game of football.
“It was a nice breakthrough in terms of building relations,” Imam Abid Salik, 26, told The Sun.
“Once inside people aired their views and concerns. We were just stating the facts — that we don’t agree with any form of extremism.
“Then we had a big football match on the field. We didn’t keep score — we were just having fun.”
The Imam likened it to the moment German and British soldiers threw down their arms and crossed “no man’s land” to play football during World War I.
The mosque leaders stressed that the Woolwich attack does not represent true Islam.
“We have already condemned that in the strongest language, the anger should be at the culprits who committed this heinous crime,” Professor El-Gomati, who is an elder at the Mosque, said.
“Every right-minded person in the UK is angry but the anger should not be at your neighbors.
“If people sat down and talked, they may come to common, shared ground rather than shouting from a distance and not hearing what the other person is saying.”
Ismail Miah, president of York mosque, agrees.
"Under the banner of Islam there are very different politics: democratic politics, the far right, left, central, all over. You can't target a whole community for what one or two people have done,” Miah said.
"What they've done in London is for their own reasons but there's no reasoning behind it from an Islamic point of view."
The meeting comes amid rising attacks against Muslims and their mosques in the wake of the Woolwich killing.
Ten attacks were reported against mosques in addition to 193 anti-Muslim incidents since Wednesday.
The EDL, a far-right group that emerged in 2009, has held numerous protests against what it calls “Islamic extremism” in Britain.
Far-right groups like the EDL and the British National Party (BNP) are playing the card of immigration to stoke sentiment against Muslims and immigrants.In November 2010, British police warned that the anti-Muslim demonstration by the EDL fuel extremism and harm social cohesion in Britain, which is home to nearly 2.7 million Muslims.
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