TWENTY two people, including children, have died in the bomb blast at Manchester Arena. Whilst I was relieved to hear that the children of one of my colleagues, who were inside the arena, were safe, my heart breaks for the many young lives snatched away by the heartless terrorist.
The attacker has been identified as Salman Abedi, who was known to the security services but was not regarded as a high risk. He was viewed as a peripheral figure in much the same way as the Westminster attacker Khalid Masood.
It is unimaginable to think what will possess a person to mercilessly and indiscriminately kill innocent young people. Through his evil actions, the militant Abedi has shown that he had no regard for God or humanity.
As a British Muslim, I am absolutely repulsed at the carnage caused by the terrorist in the Manchester Arena. Abedi has a Muslim name but his vile attack neither represents Islam nor Muslims, just in the same way the murderer of Jo Cox MP did not represent any faith or our region Yorkshire.
Muslims are not responsible for the horrific attack they had nothing to do with, any more than those baptized in Protestant churches had anything to do with Anders Breivik’s murderous rampage in Norway which claimed 77 young lives.
The fact that the terrorists link their barbaric acts to my faith disgusts me even further. Islam is very clear – those who take innocent lives are not following a path to paradise, as the taking of a single innocent life is considered in Islam as being akin to the killing of the whole of humanity.The Prophet Muhammad has said that whoever kills a civilian will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise.
Imams from across the country have joined me in unreservedly condemning this attack. I will be leading a prayer service for 1,000 Muslims in my mosque in Leeds.
My fellow Imams will mark the Friday services, again attended by hundreds and thousands of British Muslims, with prayers of peace and solidarity with those who lost their lives and those who have lost their loved ones. We will restate our resolve to fight extremism. We are part of Britain and this was an attack on our society, an attack on all of us, on our shared home.
We Muslims must not only continue to condemn and disassociate ourselves from the acts of terrorists, but continue to proactively challenge the spectrum of extremism through education, engagement and the empowerment of vulnerable young people. We must all recognise that the aim of terrorists is to undermine our values and co-existence. The only way to defeat them is to replace hatred with understanding and compassion.
The terrorists want to create a climate of fear, anger and suspicion and exacerbate tensions in our multi-faith and multi-cultural societies; they long to create insular and authoritarian communities. They hope our societies restrict the very values and freedoms that define our democracy. Our values of tolerance, civil liberties and freedom must not be compromised.
These terrorists want to provoke people so that there are more anti-Muslim verbal and physical attacks. A number of people I know have already been verbally abused on streets and spat at. Some mosques have also been attacked when many mosques in Manchester, in fact, opened their doors to those affected by the attack and provided refreshments.
Even the most integrated society would never offer us immunity from notoriety and extremism but we must all continue to stand together – striving to achieve the vision of a more inclusive and more confident society.
Through their acts of love, kindness and unity, people of Manchester have already shown the strength and resilience of British people. In the coming days, let’s emphasise all the things that unite our diverse society, and analyse how we can together make our home and the world a safer place for all.
Qari Asim MBE is chief imam at Makkah Mosque, Leeds.