CAIRO – Fighting rising Islamophobic protests of the English Defence League (EDL), members of the North London Central Mosque have invited members of the far-right group to a friendly discussion about their concerns, confirming Islam’s opposition to violence.
“We really don’t want any violence or harsh words,” Mohammed Kozbar, manager of the mosque known also as Finsbury Park Mosque, told Islington Tribune on Friday, May 31, in response to the far-right group’s plans to lay a wreath at the war memorial in Islington Green on Saturday.
“It’s okay if they are just coming to lay flowers and pay their respects, I don’t think anyone in Islington minds that. If there is violence or anti-social behavior then that’s a police issue.”
Expecting a huge protest on Saturday, Kozbar welcomed members of the EDL and others confused about Islam – into the mosque in St Thomas Road for “some jokes, some nice conversation and some food”.
“We need to solve misunderstandings through talking. I’d like to give them a tour of the mosque, and find a way that's good for us both,” he said.
“We’re all people, so we would have some jokes, some nice conversation and some nice food, and they would see we have things in common as fellow human beings.
“We have all built very happy bridges between diverse communities in Islington, they can see how proud we are of that, and how proud we are of Britain.”
The invitation was similar to another one extended last week by members of York mosque who invited angry EDL members for refreshments, tea and biscuits inside the mosque.
As some EDL supporters accepted the invitation, tension eased over tea and plates of custard creams, followed by an impromptu game of football.
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.
“The men who did this [murdered Drummer Rigby] were not well people,” Kozbar said.
“Yes, they say they were Muslim, but can we help it if they use our name? They were also men and south Londoners, but do we think everyone from those groups are bad? Of course not. We blame the mental illness.
“There are 2.2 million Muslims and, out of that, two of them have done something terrible.
“If you listen to murderers’ excuses they say they did it for all sorts of people, for their children, for their girlfriends, but we don’t blame those people who are unfairly named by violent people.”
The EDL plan to protest at the war memorial in Islington Green has been widely criticized by the city officials.
“If the EDL turn up to the war memorial, they should bear in mind that the men it honours fought against their very ideology,” Labour councillor Gary Poole, who has been a strong supporter of local veterans’ campaigns, said
“British soldiers have given their lives in more than one war fighting fascism, and against everything the EDL stand for.
“They are irreverent, an abomination, and stand no chance in our borough.”
Councillor Paul Convery, the council’s crime chief, agreed.
“The EDL are like a group of drunk guys in a pub just itching to start a fight – in fact they are a group of drunk guys who are mostly in a pub trying to start a fight.”
Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn also condemned the EDL as a fascist group.
“An organization that preaches racial supremacy and violence against those of different ethnicities and faiths should be ashamed to lay wreaths for those fighting fascism.”
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.
The protest comes amid Muslim complains of increasing islamophobic attacks which followed the solder’s murder in Woolwich.
“We’ve had a very difficult time in the past week,” Kozbar said.
“Nine members of our congregation have been attacked, and those are people that we know of. There have been no physical injuries though, which is good.
“A woman was with her very young daughter and three men came and pushed them, they even pushed the little girl and gave them abuse. She arrived at the mosque in tears.
“Three other ladies were attacked walking down the road together. We’ve had many abusive phone calls, but luckily none of them have threatened violence.”
Finsbury Park mosque will be holding an open day for all on June 30 at noon, with stalls, food, and activities. Local schools will be visiting on July 1.
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