Thousands gathered in a Leeds community today to say goodbye to a much loved teenager who died in a knife incident last week.
The people of Harehills rallied around the family of Irfan Wahid - known as ‘Iffy’ - for funeral prayers and a day of vigils to promote peace and unity in the face of unbearable tragedy.
Irfan died following a street stabbing in Harehills Lane last Friday. A 16-year old has been charged with his murder.
His family, which includes his parents, three younger brothers and several uncles and aunties, today joined with community leaders to urge other youngsters to use their beloved boy’s example - that of a “kind, calm and beautiful human being” - to inspire good and banish anger.
Speaking at a vigil ahead of funeral prayers at the Bilal mosque, Iffy’s uncle Shazad Hussain said: “On behalf of Irfan’s mother and father and his family - I don’t really have the words to describe what we have been through since his death.
“But from the family’s point of view and from an Islamic perspective, we don’t believe in eye for an eye or revenge or anything like this.
“What’s happened has happened, whoever has done this, it is now down to the justice system to deal with them accordingly.
“All we can all do is have our thoughts with Irfan today, and in the days, weeks and years to come.
“We wouldn’t want any of you guys to experience what we have experienced.
“If you are a Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or non-believer, I just want you to say your final prayers and final thoughts for Irfan.”
He said the family was thankful for the support it has received from the wider community, adding: “People have come together not for brownie points, but actually as human beings, and that for the family is important.”
Among the mourners were hundreds of Iffy’s fellow pupils at Carr Manor School, many of them breaking down and physically supporting each other as they paid their respects and said goodbye at Iffy’s open casket.
Several youngsters wore sweatshirts bearing Iffy’s name. They will be selling the items to raise money for a charity or cause chosen by Iffy’s family.
Nick Jacques, one of Iffy’s teachers at Carr Manor, was among the many paying warm tributes to the “incredible” young man.
“What I will remember about him is that fantastic smile, that kind calm, presence,” he said.
“He was a beautiful human being, please remember that, and please don’t get caught up in anything else. Use his tragic death as a force for good.”
Adam Aslam, a youth worker who has worked with some of Iffy’s friends over the last week to offer counselling and a safe space to talk about their concerns, urged them to remembertheir pal in the best way.
“Don’t wear these jumpers and say you loved your boy if you’re going to go out and do harm in his name,” he said.
“We are Harehills. We are a family. We are a community.
“Just remember we are here not only to remember our boy, not only because we feel pain for him - we are here because we want to move forward.
“That’s all his dad wants from us.
“If there’s anything you can do, it’s to get out on the streets, tell your gangs, tell your friends to forgive and move on. We can never forget when people do wrong, but we can forgive and move forward.”
He added: “I know how much he meant to you , but let’s think for a moment, picture Iffy as he was - a sweet boy who always dressed well, always had a smile on his face, always used to have a bit of a laugh and a joke, but used to be the calm one.
“Remember that face, and remember what you do with your life from today onwards is in memory and inspiration of that.
“You can hear Iffy’s name and say ‘We are Iffy’s World. We are going to create a world in honour of Iffy.
“Remember the boy that you loved. He wouldn’t want you to be angry for him.
“He wouldn’t want you to get aggressive for him. He’d want you to live for him and move on for him. And I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful that you could give him. That’s the only way you will keep this beautiful boy alive.”
Following the funeral today, teachers, youth workers, religious leaders and politicians joined hundreds of teenagers at a vigil close to the spot where Irfan was stabbed. The message from imams speaking at the gathering was that hope and unity would triumph over hate - and that the tragedy would mark a turning point for the area’s youth.
Irfan’s former headteacher Janet Spence remembered him from his time at Hovingham Primary School.
“He was well-respected, a lovely boy and popular, and he was making good progress. We all had high hopes that he would go on to high school and be a success. He was a ‘can do’ pupil - he had a really positive attitude.”
Harehills parish vicar the Reverend Amos Kasibante emphasised the focus on bringing people of all backgrounds together.
“We’re here to express our sympathy, but the community is also coming together in solidarity against violence.
“The message is to avoid gangs, avoid knives, and talk the language of love and reconciliation.
“We want to galvanise the young people. There have been some nasty incidents recently and we hope that this is the end of them.”
Local ward councillors Arif Hussain and Mohammed Rafique paid tribute to the courage of Irfan’s family.
“They are a very well-respected family - generations of them have lived in this area for about 40 years.
“This is such a hard time for them, their boy has lost his life and they saw him off for school that morning hoping he would come home.
“This is a very positive response - there has been no aggression. We hope that the youngsters look to the future and make the area better,” said Coun Hussain.
East Leeds MP Richard Burgon, who attended the vigil and the earlier funeral prayers, said: “People have supported each other in the darkest of times. The family have said that they forgive the person who took their son’s life - and we hope that lessons can be learned.”