Despite all the violence and destruction that occurred across England during the recent riots, there were also some heartening developments. Most well-known, of course, is the reaction of Tariq Jahan, the inspirational father of one of the young men murdered in Birmingham as they attempted to protect the local population from the rioters. Mr Jahan’s extraordinary dignity and calls for peace on the basis of our common humanity played a huge part in preventing the situation from spiralling into even worse violence.
Tariq Jahan’s actions have effectively resulted in him becoming a national hero in Britain, and some of the most moving articles have come from unexpected sources such as The Telegraph and the Daily Mail. The outpouring of support and praise for Mr Jahan has included commenters who are openly expressing deep regret for their previous prejudice against Muslims.
A prayer event in Birmingham ahead of the funerals of Shazad Ali, Abdul Musavir, and Tariq Jahan’s son Haroon was attended by approximately 20,000 people, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and invited speakers included visitors from one of the local synagogues. An online book of condolence has also been launched by Birmingham city council.
Interfaith unity and friendship
Inspiring examples of interfaith unity and friendship also occurred across the country during the riots. For example, Sikhs were heavily involved in joint efforts to protect the local towns & cities as a whole and the associated places of worship, including the defence of mosques. Correspondingly, Muslims also volunteered to protect Sikh temples. And a joint Sikh-Muslim prayer vigil was held at the site of the murders of the young Asian Muslims in Birmingham, attended by several hundred people and involving both Sikh and Muslim prayers. A photo of the candlelit vigil is displayed at the top of this article. You can also watch an interview of Harpreet Singh, one of the Sikh organisers of the joint vigil, in the video below.
Other notable events included Sikhs in Southall (West London) guarding mosques while the Muslims inside performed their prayers and broke their Ramadan fasts; if you can understand Hindi, you can watch an excellent news report about this on a major Indian news channel via Youtube here. As previously discussed on Pickled Politics, the signatories of the joint statement condemning the English Defence League for their persecution of ordinary Muslims include numerous Sikh temples and organisations in London and Birmingham, two British cities which are not only the locations of the two largest Sikh temples outside India but are also the locations of the two largest Sikh populations in the UK.
Huge numbers of British people from all backgrounds also volunteered to help clean up after the riots, along with posting countless positive messages on the temporary walls replacing the windows of damaged buildings. Furthermore, the Birmingham-based Sangat TV satellite channel has received praise from around the world for its coverage of the riots, which was rebroadcast on CNN, Sky News and BBC News; the channel’s live coverage of the aforementioned joint Sikh-Muslim vigil was also superb.
“My religion teaches me that forgiveness is always better than vengeance”
It is not the first time this year that such heroes have risen amongst the ordinary population during extremely tragic circumstances. In the United States, a former white supremacist called Mark Stroman had shot three South Asians at point-blank range in “revenge” for 9/11, with the specific intention of targeting Arabs; two of them were killed, an Indian Gujarati Hindu and a Pakistani Muslim father of four (neither of whom were Arabs at all, and in one case was not even a Muslim). The sole survivor was a Bangladeshi-American Muslim called Rais Bhuiyan, who still has 39 pieces of metal embedded in his head and has lost the use of his left eye. Rather than being consumed by hatred and anger, during a visit to Mecca Mr Bhuiyan decided that it would be far better to try to help Stroman.
Stating that “my religion teaches me that forgiveness is always better than vengeance”, Rais Bhuiyan therefore launched a campaign to save Stroman from execution. During his incarceration in Texas, Stroman himself had completely renounced his previous attitudes and was desperate to make amends, acknowledging that his actions had senselessly destroyed the lives of his victims and their families. Mr Bhuiyan also hoped that Stroman would be able to play an influential role in encouraging other white supremacists to reject racial and religious bigotry, stating “Killing him is not the solution. He’s learning from his mistake. If he’s given a chance, he’ll be able to reach out to others and spread that message to others.”
Unfortunately, Mr Bhuiyan was ultimately unsuccessful in his extensive efforts despite appealing to the US Supreme Court to intervene (they rejected his request for clemency), and Stroman was executed in July 2011. Mr Bhuiyan had even expressed a wish to meet Stroman, and said “If they let me see him, the first thing I’ll tell him is that I don’t hate him…If I have the opportunity to give him a hug, I’ll give him a hug. I want him to know I have no anger against him.”
Tragedies and triumphs
More recently, the actions of the Far-Right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik (described by the Norwegian police as a “Christian fundamentalist”) had the opposite reaction to what he desired, with the Norwegian population defiantly rejecting his calls for violence, division, bigotry and hatred. In fact, the funeral of the first victim to be buried included both Christian and Islamic memorial services (both of which were attended by Norway’s Prime Minister), with the priest and the imam walking side-by-side, and the murdered teenager was the first Muslim to be buried in the Christian cemetery where she was ultimately laid to rest.
It is one of life’s tragedies that, all too often, it takes traumatic events like these to bring out the best in people and inspire such demonstrations of unity, compassion and altruism. However, the heroism involved is also a triumph of the human spirit, and a sign of the inherent decency of so many ordinary people.
Perhaps there is hope for mankind yet.
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Filed in: British Identity,Current affairs,Muslim,Religion,Sikh