Religious leaders unite in condemnation of Finsbury Park attack

Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent
Police officers near the terror attack in Finsbury Park. Photograph: Dinendra Haria/Rex/Shutterstock

Muslim leaders have reacted to the attack in Finsbury Park, north London, with shock, condemnation and calls for security at mosques to be stepped up. Many also said the backdrop of the attack was rising Islamophobia.

Support also came from Christian, Jewish and Sikh leaders.

The Muslim Council of Britain condemned the attack near the Muslim Welfare House. Harun Khan, the MCB’s secretary general, said: “It appears from eyewitness accounts that the perpetrator was motivated by Islamophobia. Over the past weeks and months, Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia, and this is the most violent manifestation to date.

“Given we are approaching the end of the month of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid, with many Muslims going to local mosques, we expect the authorities to increase security outside mosques as a matter of urgency.”

Muslim communities wanted “transformative action ... to tackle not only this incident but the hugely worrying growth in Islamophobia”, he added.

The Muslim Association of Britain said it unreservedly condemned “this evil terror attack” and called on police to increase security in mosques.

It demanded politicians “treat this major incident no less than a terrorist attack. We call on the government to do more to tackle this hateful evil ideology which has spread over these past years and resulted in an increase of Islamophobic attacks and division of our society, as well as spreading of hate.”

Tell Mama, an organisation which monitors anti-Muslim abuse and attacks, said its staff had visited the Muslim Welfare House on Friday to urge the congregation to report anti-Muslim hatred and to keep safe during Ramadan.

The mosque has previously been targeted, Tell Mama said. Its director, Iman Atta, said: “We have put out numerous safety leaflets to mosques to ensure vigilance so that congregations are safe. Ramadan is a time when Muslims are more visible and when there are larger congregations who attend late at night to pray after opening their fasts. Mosque safety needs to be stepped up and this includes entry and exit points.”

Mohammed Kozbar, general secretary of the nearby Finsbury Park mosque, said: “This is a shocking new terrorist attack – and we have to call it that. It’s no different to Manchester, Westminster or London Bridge. Innocent people have lost their lives while just going about their business. Innocent people are being killed in cold blood.”

Kozbar called for action by the government and police to protect mosques, and said his own mosque would be tightening security. “We need to show the community they are safe and protected.”

Mohammed Kozbar, the general secretary of Finsbury Park mosque, reads a statement alongside the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Photograph: Hannah Mckay/Reuters

Ramadan, which ends at the weekend, with Eid al-Fitr beginning on Sunday, was always a busy time for mosques, with people coming and going to pray all night, he said.

“Finsbury Park is a diverse community, living together in harmony,” Kozbar said. “The person who did this wants to spread hatred and fear. We will not let them succeed. We will all come together to support the people affected. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims: we will comfort them and stand with them.”

Sufyan Ismail, the founder of Mend, which monitors Islamophobia, said he would be asking “why the government’s counter-terrorism strategy does not focus enough on the far right”.

He added: “In the weeks following Manchester and London Bridge we have seen a huge increase in the number of Islamophobic incidents and crimes, this terrorist attack being the worst case. It is important police and government deal with this threat facing Muslims urgently and robustly. At the same time we call for calm and state that this Islamophobic terrorist attack must not be allowed to divide our great capital city, we are one London.

“We also condemn the initial ambivalent response of, and language used by parts of the media in reporting this as a terrorist attack. We would contrast this with their response to the similar Westminster attack that was immediately described as a terrorist attack. We call upon the media to ensure even-handedness and objectivity in their reporting of such incidents regardless of the alleged perpetrator or victims.”

Qari Asim, an imam in Leeds and a member of the government’s anti-Muslim hatred working group, said: “It’s important that we seek out those who incite hatred, of whatever form, to challenge and condemn their vile actions. There can be no tolerance of religious hatred in our country.

“Given that there has been a fivefold increase in anti-Muslim hatred since the London Bridge attack, Muslims are deeply concerned and anxious about growing levels of Islamophobia.

“But we must remain calm and vigilant, and increase security around mosques. We must stand together to drown out extremism and hatred with hope and unity.”

The East London mosque in Whitechapel, one of the largest in the UK, said it was reviewing its security. “We are shocked and horrified … Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” it said in a statement.

“An emergency meeting has been called with our local police commander and local authority to review security concerns for our mosque and others in Tower Hamlets. We urge vigilance against further terrorist attacks and violent hate crimes.

“We urge the relevant authorities to treat this with the same urgency and seriousness as other terrorist attacks. Muslims have been demanding better legislation and action on hate crimes for a while; this attack once again brings home the critical need to do so.”

Support after the Finsbury Park attack was also offered by other faith leaders. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted:

Adrian Newman, the bishop of Stepney, said: “An attack on any faith is an attack on us all. As a church, we stand together with Finsbury Park mosque in the wake of this morning’s appalling news. It sadly comes after a weekend, in memory of Jo Cox MP, that celebrated all that brings us together, and I know that the mosque, hand in hand with other local faith and community groups, was at the heart of events in the Finsbury Park area.”

Local churches would be available to help the mosque, he added. “We will not be cowed by those who seek to terrorise our communities.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, said he was “appalled at the deliberate attack on people leaving their late night prayers, as the end of their day of fasting, at the mosque in Finsbury Park. I have assured the leadership of the mosque and the Muslim Welfare Centre of our prayers and support.

“Violence breeds violence. Hatred breeds hatred. Every one of us must repudiate hatred and violence from our words and actions. We must all be builders of understanding, compassion and peace, day by day, in our homes, our work and our communities. That is the only way.

The Sikh Federation UK said its thoughts and prayers were with those affected. “The incidents in the last three months suggest there needs to be an honest dialogue and a fundamental shift in the way government tackles all forms of hate and terror,” said its chair, Bhai Amrik Singh.

“Hate and terror must be stamped out by directly confronting all those who promote an ideology and philosophy based on hate and terror.”

The Jewish community condemned the attack and offered support.

Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi, said: “It is heartbreaking to hear of yet another deadly attack on the streets of London, this time targeting Muslims who had been at prayer. This is a painful illustration of why we must never allow hatred to breed hatred. It creates a downward spiral of violence and terror with only further death and greater destruction.

“As ever our thoughts and prayers are with those affected and may each of us resolve to respond to this latest tragedy with the same compassion and determination not to be divided, which has defined our society over recent months.”

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, also condemned the attack.

“This weekend, the Jewish community joined Muslims and others up and down the country for the Great Get Together in memory of Jo Cox,” he said. “All good people must stand together and join in rejecting hatred and violence from wherever it comes. The way forward is to strengthen the moderate majority and repudiate and marginalise extremism of every type. Hatred of people because of their religion has no place in our society.”

Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi to Reform Judaism, said: “I condemn this terrorist attack and send prayers of condolence and strength to those affected. This is not true Britain; this is abhorrent. We must stand together against Islamophobia and all forms of incitement, fighting hatred and extremism wherever it occurs. Today we stand with our Muslim friends in solidarity and unity.”

The European Jewish Congress expressed shock and condemned the attack. “This is an unconscionable attack on Muslim worshippers during their holy month of Ramadan,” said Moshe Kantor, the EJC president.

“We condemn this attack and its attempt to escalate tensions in the UK and we stand firmly besides our Muslim brothers and sisters in the aftermath of this attack. An attack on one religion is an attack on all religions, and all people and faiths must stand together against terror.”

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes