UK Muslims unite in the face of 'Punish a Muslim Day' threats
Women advised to hide hijabs instead demonstrate openly in defiance
British Muslims had a message for extremists who called for Tuesday to be “Punish a Muslim” day: “Enough is enough. We’re not going anywhere.”
From Edinburgh to Manchester, Bradford and across London, Muslims defied hate mongers calling for a day of violence. Instead, they turned April 3 into a “Love a Muslim” day, spreading messages of tolerance and peace.
Chama Bouanik and her daughter Aisha, 14, attended a rally in London — both wearing a hijab despite warnings that it may not be safe to walk the streets on Tuesday. They were joined by about 100 other demonstrators, many also wearing a hijab.
“I’m here to show the racists I am not afraid,” Mrs Bouanik told The National. "I stand by my faith, and I’m happy to see other people here who are supporting us from other faiths here.”
As demonstrations took place across London, Nur Mohamed, a Somalia immigrant, handed out badges in north London reading: “We stand together.”
“I wanted to voice my feeling of repugnance at anyone naming a day ‘Punish a Muslim’ day. I feel quite shocked about it,” said Mr Mohamed.
Mana Abbas, another Somalia refugee, told The National: “We came here with our family in 1993. The UK government opened their door to us and saved our lives, and we are committed to working together with the UK for peace.”
At least 20 anonymous hate letters encouraging Britons to “Punish a Muslim” on April 3 were posted across the UK, triggering fear and a major police counterterrorism investigation.
The letters arrived in plain white envelopes with second-class stamps. They were sent to addresses in London, Bradford, Leicester, Cardiff and Sheffield, suggesting ways to target Muslims and win reward points — 10 points for verbally abusing a Muslim, 1,000 points for bombing a mosque and 2,500 points to “nuke Makkah”.
“Are you a sheep like the vast majority of the population? Sheep follow orders and are easily led,” the letters read. “They are allowing the white-majority nations of Europe and North America to become overrun by those who would like nothing more than to do us harm and to turn our democracies into Sharia-led police states.”
Five British MPs with South Asian backgrounds also received Islamophobic hate mail, along with packages containing a harmless sticky liquid. So far, there have been no arrests.
By late afternoon on Tuesday, there was no report of a hate crime or Muslim-related violence in the UK.
Tell MAMA, the UK anti-Muslim hate monitoring service, said it had received calls from Muslims asking whether they should allow children to play outdoors but none reporting violent incidents on Tuesday.
“The reaction from those who have received the letters is fear, trepidation and a hesitation to go out,” the director of MAMA, Iman Atta, said.
Tell MAMA said at least some of the anti-Muslim letters appeared to have been posted in Sheffield, which is a “concern” because similar letters sent to mosques in the UK and US in May 2017 were also posted from Sheffield. No other link has so far been established.
UK volunteers manned phone lines on Tuesday, advising people worried about travel.
“We’ve already had a few calls today asking if we could get volunteers to accompany females out and about, and a couple just wanting to stay on the phone with us as they felt unsafe. It’s been a positive response with over 100 volunteers signed up from across the country,” a spokesperson told The Guardian newspaper.
The alarm spread from Britain to the US where flyers promoting Punish a Muslim Day were distributed and the threats were repeated on social media. Schools and mosques e-mailed warnings to parents and asked police to provide additional security in case of attacks. Some parents reportedly kept children home from school, fearing violence.
Police Chief Ken Teppal of the Bolingbrook, Chicago Illinois, said that patrol units were stepping up security in mosque areas although there had been no credible threat.
Leaflets also appeared in Portland, Oregon, leading police to add patrols near mosques and Islamic community centres.
Officials from the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau said there was no evidence of the threat gaining momentum in the city but it was increasing police patrols on Tuesday at mosques and in neighbourhoods with large Muslim populations.
Rakhia Ismail, a local councillor in Islington, north London, called the UK rallies on Tuesday “a national response to an outrage”.
“Don’t be afraid. Be defiant. Be cautious. Be respectful. Today is not going to be easy,” Ms Ismail said.
Ajmal Masroor, Imam at Finsbury Park mosque, said his father moved from Bangladesh to the UK in 1956 and he and his family have no plans to leave Britain or be intimidated by racist threats.
“We’re staying,” Imam Masroor said. "We are not going anywhere. This is our home. This is our children’s home.
“We are all brothers and sisters in humanity and no one will take it away from us.”
North London Councillor Claudia Webbe called for a show of unity.
“We’re saying no to racism, no to Islamophobia, no to hate. We say no to those racists who want to divide us.”
The #LoveAMuslimDay hashtag began circulating on Tuesday and quickly went viral. One activist issued an open letter that urged sympathisers to turn the message of hate on its head. Shahab Adris suggested a rival points system that was built on rewards for smiling at people who appeared to be dressed as Muslims.
Others sought to use the concerns to raise pressure for police action. Mohammed Kozbar was one of those who said the attempt to intimidate Britain’s 3 million Muslims was not going to work but that there should be a greater effort to get to find the perpetrators of the hate campaign
“We expect the police to get to the bottom of this issue. If this happened to another community, to another faith, the reaction would be different,” Mr Kozbar said.
“Enough is enough.”
Updated: April 4, 2018 12:47 PM