In a converted pub on the Old Kent Road in south-east London afternoon, a few dozen Nigerian Muslims gathered for their usual Friday prayers.
But the mood in the makeshift mosque was more sombre than usual, following the barbaric killing of Drummer Lee Rigby – allegedly by two Muslims of Nigerian descent – just a few miles away.
In a gesture of goodwill, the Chief Imam Alhaji Tajudeen Salami, from the Muslim Association of Nigeria, invited The Independent inside to listen to his sermon. Addressing about 50 worshippers, many in casual western clothes, he spoke of the importance of forging peace after Wednesday’s terrible events. He stressed that the killing was not a “Muslim thing”.
“We pray for the family of the soldier, we feel it very badly. Our hearts are broken,” he said as those listening bowed their heads.
The doorway at the foot of the stairs which led up to the main prayer room was covered in damp shoes. As the rain continued to pour, more people entered the room, shepherded to the few remaining spaces the room offered. Through the steady May drizzle, the worshippers continued to arrive. While the mood was welcoming, some were clearly unsettled by the presence of a small American news crew outside.
The locals know why they are here – it is their worst fear: to be linked in some way to the brutal killing of a young British man, by dint of the fact they are Nigerian Muslims. This is the only similarity they had to Lee Rigby’s alleged killers, according to those who spoke to The Independent.
Earlier, two young Muslim men approached the US camera crew and asked: “Why are you filming the mosque?”
The anchor said they were looking for “reaction” to the brutal events that led to the death of Lee Rigby, adding: “Did you know him?”
The “him” they were referring to was 28-year-old Muslim convert Michael Adebolajo, one of the soldier’s two alleged killers. The two teenagers, dismayed at the question, angrily said “No” and rode off in disgust.
The reaction was much the same among many of those, old and young, making their way to the Old Kent Road Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre. One member, who preferred not to be named, said the mosque has never had any trouble since it first opened in 1993. Others simply shook their heads at the mere mention of Adebolajo’s name.
After the service, Mr Salami said he and his congregation were fearful of reprisals from the likes of the English Defence League or other far-right groups.
“When something like this happens, it harms all of us [all Muslims],” said Mr Salami.
“It was not a Muslim thing. We feel very cross. All we can do is pray. Pray for the family and ourselves and hope for peace.”