The daughter of a Muslim man killed in a north London terror attack five years ago said their family still has an empty chair where he used to sit in their living room.
Ruzina Akhtar gave a moving tribute to her father, Makram Ali, at Finsbury Park Mosque, and afterwards told the PA news agency about the last time she saw him and the impact his death has had on their large family.
The 30-year-old mother-of-two was joined by council and police officials at the service and at a wreath-laying beside Mr Ali’s name plaque on a lawn near their family home.
Mr Ali, 51, died when Darren Osborne drove a hired van into worshippers outside the Muslim Welfare House shortly after evening Ramadan prayers on June 19 2017.
Ms Akhtar told those at the mosque service: “Our dad was first and foremost one of the most gentle human beings you could have met, who always had a smile on his face and was cracking jokes at the most random of times to make others laugh.
“He was a compassionate husband, a loving father and doting grandfather who was adored by everyone.
“His death has left a black hole but, remembering his smile and laughter, we surround that hole with more love for one another, as he would have wanted.”
Ms Akhtar said that “as a Muslim woman” she wanted everyone “to voice any Islamophobic behaviour as it still exists so it is tackled right away”.
She told PA afterwards that “there’s always an empty space” where he used to sit in the family’s living room.
“Every year is always going to be difficult; every Ramadan is always going to be difficult because that’s the month that we lost him,” she said.
“There’s always an empty space.
“A chair is always in our living room that he used to sit in and it’s still there.
“Our mind sometimes just diverts to his chair.”
She said the last time she spoke with her father was in that same room.
Ms Akhtar told PA: “We had just finished breaking our fast and we were sitting in our living room.
“He was trying to sneak out of the house to go to the mosque away from my nephew, because otherwise my nephew would have wanted to go with him.
“I remember giving him a hint to tell him to quickly go.
“That was the last thing I said.
“I remember telling him to quickly go but didn’t know how significant those words were, because he did go and then there was the attack.”
Matt Jukes, assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, told PA the force is “determined today to tackle hate crime” both “on the streets and online”.
Mr Jukes, who paid tribute to Mr Ali at the service, said his colleagues from “under-represented backgrounds” experience hate crimes every day.
He told PA: “It’s so important because we’ve been talking this afternoon about hate crime.
“The experience of a family member having a head covering pulled in the street or having people shouting at them is tragically happening every day to colleagues, and they can talk so powerfully about this experience.
“We can be a better Met if we hear that more.”
Speaking at the mosque service, Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, told listeners that Islamophobia in the UK is “much worse now than it was five years ago”.
Mr Kozbar said: “The problem we are facing is that since this attack took place not much has changed in tackling Islamophobia.
“I remember the prime minister at the time, Theresa May, sitting in this room and promising that steps and actions will be taken seriously to tackle this disease which causes Islamophobia.
“Even still we don’t have a definition of Islamophobia.
“In fact, it is much worse now than it was five years ago, with the institutionalisation of Islamophobia by this Government and some sections of the media.
“We as Muslims are still feeling the effects of this attack and we won’t feel safe until Islamophobia is taken seriously by the authorities and the police.”
Toufik Kacimi, chief executive of the Muslim Welfare House, where the terror attack took place, called for the “root cause” of Islamophobia to be tackled.
He added: “This incident was trying to divide us but it actually brought us together as you can see five years on we’re still coming together today.”
In a statement on Saturday, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “On the fifth anniversary of the awful Finsbury Park terror attack, we remember Makram Ali, who tragically lost his life, and all the innocent Londoners who were injured after being deliberately targeted while leaving their mosque following Ramadan prayers.
“Our thoughts are with Makram’s family and everyone who was impacted by this dreadful attack.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson added on Twitter: “Five years on from this cowardly act of terrorism my thoughts are with the family of Makram Ali and those affected by the Finsbury Park Mosque attack.
“Freedom of worship and tolerance for different faiths is fundamental to our values.
“Terrorists will never change our way of life.”
Osborne, from Cardiff, was found guilty of terrorism-related murder and jailed for life in February 2018.