In the wake of the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, Muslims along with the rest of the diverse British city are mourning the dead and tending to the wounded.
But for Muslims in particular, the suicide bombing that left more than 20 dead and dozens wounded on May 22 has also sown fear. They worry about a backlash from those who would blame all followers of Islam for the carnage, for which the so-called Islamic State takes credit.
Many in Greater Manchester’s sizable Muslim population — about 15 percent of the area’s 2.5 million people, many of whom have lived in the metropolis since the 1960s — now wonder how safe they are on the streets, and in their mosques and schools.
Generally, people have been united in their solidarity, said Zahid Hussain, a local author and poet who is Muslim. “People are coming together — but there have been skirmishes.”
The city feels tense.
Hussain received calls on May 23 about a 14-year-old Muslim girl being mocked at school. And a Jewish friend told him he hadn’t sent his children to school that day. “They thought an attack may be imminent in their own community,” he said.
Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Tell MAMA, which monitors and records hate crimes against Muslims, reported there had been a “measurable” spike in incidents after the attack, including verbal abuse, spitting, and headscarves pulled from the heads of Muslim women.
A door at a mosque in Oldham, just outside of the city, was burned just hours after the attack on May 22.
Police officers were also put on patrol outside Glasgow’s Central Mosque in Scotland, after the building’s outside wall was vandalized with graffiti: the word “ISIS” enclosed in a heart.
Musa Naqvi, another Manchester resident who works in the public health sector, worries about hateful sentiments manifesting online. “If I observe the feeds on Facebook and Twitter, the comments are mixed. Some of my (non-Muslim) friends have been really understanding and supportive. But I’ve seen a lot of hateful comment as well blaming Muslims.”
Naqvi attributed some of those sentiments to high-profile British media commentators, such as Piers Morgan, who tweeted on May 22: ‘It’s time for Muslims to expose, name, & shame radicalized members of their communities BEFORE they kill.”
The accusation is incredibly unfair, said Naqvi, because sources have revealed that the suicide bomber, now identified as Salman Abedi, 22, was flagged to police at least five separate times in recent years over his extremist views, but not stopped by officers.
“So whilst there are elements in the media that are blaming the Muslim community and the imams and the mosques, I would really question the security services,” he added. “Why didn’t they make sure he was apprehended before such an event ever took place?”
“There is a gap that needs to be bridged between the security services, the police, and the Muslim community,” Naqvi said. “Because if Muslims still get bashed in the media and told to be more proactive, they (the authorities) are not going to win the hearts and minds of the community.”
The identity of the suicide bomber struck Naqvi hard — he was shocked to discover he lives in the same neighborhood as Abedi.
“It was really surreal for me,” he said. “This guy (Abedi) lives five minutes down the road from my house. This is the middle of Manchester — not an industrial area . . . How did he get ahold of a bomb and make it in the first place? It’s very disturbing . . . and rings alarm bells and anxiety about the area we’re living in.”