An Islamist preacher who was involved in anti-Jewish demonstrations in London has been accused of “stirring up hatred” in Leicester, where attacks on Hindu temples and shops led to dozens of arrests.
Mohammed Hijab was one of the leading figures during demonstrations in the capital that were condemned as anti-Semitic by Jewish groups.
It can now be revealed that Mr Hijab was last week also in Leicester, where anti-Hindu demonstrations turned violent and later spread to Smethwick, in the West Midlands.
Clashes broke out in the city on Saturday, September 17, when a group of young Hindu men marched through Green Lane Road - where there are several Muslim-owned businesses - shouting "Jai Shri Ram", a religious chant which has been co-opted by far-right Hindu nationalist groups in India.
Other videos shared online depicted Muslim men retaliating, including incidents of bottles being thrown and a man clothed all in back climbing a Hindu temple and removing its saffron flag as crowds cheered.
Rumours and inflammatory rhetoric spread on social media were blamed by several community leaders and senior police officers for helping to provoke and spread the violence.
Police confirmed that the clashes have been fuelled by young people travelling from other cities. Mr Hijab, a 30-year-old preacher and self-proclaimed scholar, was filmed in a busy shopping street in Leicester telling a group of Muslim men - several of whom were masked: “[Hindus] believe in reincarnation, what a humiliation and pathetic thing for them to be reincarnated into. Some pathetic, weak, cowardly people like that. I’d rather be an animal, I’d rather be reincarnated as a grasshopper bruv, that’s the truth.”
Referring to groups of right wing Hindu nationalists he adds: “So how come in Leicester, the Hindutva are coming out . . . trying to act like gangsters? Don’t ever, I’m saying this directly to all the so-called Hindutva wannabe gangsters, don’t ever come out like that again do you understand?”
Mr Hijab repeatedly asks the assembled crowd: "Are they going to come out like that again?”
'Muslim patrol in Leicester'
After the crowd shouts “never”, Mr Hijab adds: “Because if they do come out, are we going to be here yes or no?” and the crowd responds: “Yes” before chanting “Allahu Akbar”.
The film was posted to his YouTube channel, which has nearly 600,000 subscribers, on September 19. The previous day he had posted on Instagram a photograph of himself leading a group of masked men along a street, with the caption: “Muslim patrol in Leicester”.
A seperate video shows a small number of Muslim men trying to stop a megaphone wielding Mr Hijab from addressing the Leicester crowd, telling him: “You're going to incite them, you are only going to make things worse! Put the mike down. Show some restraint! You’ve said your piece.”
The violence in Leicester was followed by tense scenes in Smethwick on the evening of Tuesday, September 20, when around 200 young Muslim men tried to storm the Hindu Durga Bhawan temple and cultural centre and temple, setting off fireworks and hurling abuse at worshippers.
They were only stopped by police blocking the road and throwing a ring of officers around the building. An 18-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of possessing a knife.
Interfaith leaders from the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities in Leicester and Smethwick have been holding meetings and speaking to their respective congregations in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the violence.
Mazahar Mohammad, chair of trustees of Jaia Masjid, Smethwick’s largest mosque, told The Telegraph: “We don’t need people like Mr Hijab coming to areas like Leicester and Smethwick from London and other places and stirring up hatred. We are a multi-faith community and we have to be careful about people creating tension and hatred where there wasn’t any before.”
Ashvani Kumar, a trustee of the Durga Bhawan Centre, added: “We don’t want people on either side creating problems between the communities. We ask these people to stay away from here and allow us to live side by side in peace.”
It has now emerged that Mr Hijab was one of the leading figures in a demonstration through the traditionally Jewish neighbourhood of Golders Green, in north west London, in May 2021.
While there, he targeted Jewish passers-by, asking them for their views on Israel and giving speeches about “the killing of children” while standing in front of a billboard with the words: “Did we not learn from the Holocaust?”
Allegations of anti-Semitism by Mr Hijab were reported to the Metropolitan Police by the Community Security Trust, a charity dedicated to safeguarding British Jews, and a local synagogue and were later raised by the CST with senior Met commanders.
The following day Mr Hijab was involved in a large demonstration by Palestinian rights protestors outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington, which confronted dozens of pro-Israeli supporters being addressed by the country’s ambassador.
During the protest Mr Hijab was filmed telling police he would kill any dogs belonging to Israeli supporters that came near his group.
“If those come close to us again we will see it as an act of aggression and we will kill those dogs. We will put them down,” he told one officer.
Referring to the “terrorist apartheid state of Israel” he told the crowd: “We don't care about death. We love death.”
The protestors then marched to Speakers Corner, with some reportedly chanting: “We will find some Jews. We want their blood.”
Mr Hijab can later be seen telling the youths to disperse, adding: “Do not provoke violence ... If you’re going to get excited, go to the gym.”
In May 2018, Mr Hijab - whose real name is Mohammed Nabil Hegab - had his contract as a trainee teacher at the Harris Academy in East London terminated on performance grounds. The termination coincided with him being suspended after he attended a freedom of speech rally in Whitehall, where he was filmed on social media saying he would “fight” and “die”.
Dispute with father
Mr Hijab, who lives in St John’s Wood, north London, and is married with children, has fallen out with his father over his extremist politics.
A close relative said: “He has caused a lot of trouble for his father. He is not his father’s cup of tea. He is very vocal and extreme and is bolstered by lots of supporters.”
Mr Hijab has been contacted for comment. He has previously claimed to have condemned violence and to “have good relationships with leaders of the orthodox Jewish community”, adding “we have been unequivocal about our stance against anti-Semitism”.
Mr Hijab denies inciting or condoning violence against Hindus. Defending his speeches in Leicester, he said on Twitter: " The video and its contents was not intended for Hindus but for Hindutva Thugs. There is no part of the video in which I address Hindus as a whole."