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Terrorist strikes at Didsbury Mosque in futile arson attack

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) have confirmed that they are treating Friday night’s attempted arson attack on the immeasurably popular Didsbury Mosque as a hate crime. Investigators have yet to make any arrests, and have appealed for anyone with information to report it online or to use the live chat function found on the GMP website. Alternatively, information can be passed on by calling 0161 856 4973, or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. [1]

Inspector Shoheb Chowdhury, who is from GMP’s south Manchester district, said of the worrying episode:

“This is a dreadful incident which will no doubt have caused concern in the community and we are doing all we can to find who was responsible and continue to engage the mosque and those concerned in the community.

“Detectives have been carrying out inquiries and have already seized CCTV and items from the scene as part of the investigation. Our officers will be in and around the area today and anyone concerned can speak to officers, who will address any concerns.” [1]

Chowdhury further warned of the zero tolerance policy to hate crimes in Greater Manchester, before pleading for anyone with information to immediately get in touch.

“Hate crime will not be tolerated. We’re fortunate in that Greater Manchester is a diverse place that our communities call home and those who wish to commit a crime motivated by hate will be brought to justice.

“We believe there were several vehicles that may have driven past at the time and would ask anyone who may have any dashcam footage to get in touch.” [1]

Fortunately, there are no reports of injuries during the attack, which took place just after midnight on Saturday. However, the mosque authorities have heaped praise on two neighbours who were seen putting out the flames, which had caused damage to a door. The passersby bravely used their coats to stamp out the fire so that it would not rapidly spread inside the building. Tracey Pook, the Admin Officer & Community Engagement Coordinator of Didsbury Mosque and the Manchester Islamic Centre, acknowledged the valour of the two men. Pook stated that she was “extremely thankful”, and further added:

“There are no words for that, we can never thank them enough…If it was a bit later, maybe nobody would have seen it – I hate to think of the damage it might have caused.

“Hate has no place in our society. If we were all the same, the world would be extremely boring. We are a beautiful mix of difference and we should embrace that difference of each other. We are not going to let hate win – we are going to carry on as normal, we are going to carry on doing our projects and doing good for our community. That’s Islam – be good and show the goodness.” [2]

A huge crowd of well-wishers gathered outside the mosque on Saturday in solidarity with the local Muslim community, which has been served by the Didsbury Mosque and Manchester Islamic Centre since 1965. Housed in the iconic former Albert Park Methodist Chapel, which was originally opened in 1883, the place of worship has capacity for approximately 1,000 people. Alongside the regular convening of the five daily prayers, it engages in numerous programmes for the youth, women, and elderly. These include counselling, daʿwah, and school visits, all of which allow adolescents to learn more about Islam and the mosque’s work.

Indeed, during lockdowns in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, the mosque was widely commended for feeding the elderly and the homeless. Didsbury ward councillor Greg Stanton reflected on this point in a series of remarks made during the Saturday gathering:

“I was shocked and upset by what happened because of the date and the anniversary we are marking today. And because this isn’t the first time the mosque has been targeted in this way. That does not represent Didsbury.

“This mosque does so much. It cooked for and fed elderly people during lockdown. It has a homeless drop-in service. They utterly embrace the Didsbury community which is why it was so important to come and show solidarity.” [3]

In a Facebook post on Saturday, the mosque expressed its thanks to those who had come to say #NoToIslamophobia.

In total, more than a hundred people turned up at the impromptu event organised by the Greater Manchester initiative Stand Up to Racism. After witnessing this mass support, the chair of trustees at Didsbury Mosque, Fawzi Haffar, described “wanting to cry”.

Haffar added:

“It was very overwhelming…To have so many people here at such short notice was so heart-warming to see. When some of them were speaking, I was very emotional and felt like I wanted to cry. It just shows there are so many good people out there. The person who did this was an evil person with a twisted idea. But they are the minority. Manchester is my city, and I am proud of it and today shows what this city is all about.” [3]






About Shaheer Choudhury

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