Attacks are unjustified say British Muslims

War on terrorism: Reaction
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Zenab only had one response to the first wave of retaliatory air attacks on Afghanistan: she went to pray for the dead at her local mosque.

As the people of Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad felt the full force of US and British firepower, Zenab rushed through the rain for the afternoon zuhr (prayer). She said she would pray for those who had died on 11 September, those who were killed in the air raids on Sunday night, and all those who would find themselves in the line of fire in days to come.

A sodden burqa flapping around her, Zenab spoke of a deep sense of sorrow and distress. She was visibly horrified by the attacks on Afghanistan and she regarded them as entirely vengeful. They would only serve to create more Osama bin Ladens while the man himself would probably elude justice, she warned, shaking her head as she bustled into Regents Park mosque in London. "I must go and pray for the dead, for my Muslim brothers and sisters. I am so sad, so sad for the innocent Afghans who are victims of this injustice," she said.

Hers was not the only voice of dissent. As American forces mobilised further attacks last night, Britain's Islamic community was touched by a profound sense of injustice.

Ibrahim Osman had gone to Regents Park mosque to pray in his lunch hour. Mr Osman, a Somali-born London transport worker, said that some Muslims felt Islam itself was under attack, despite Tony Blair's insistence that the bombing had nothing to do with culture or religion.

Yousry Telby, an Egyptian chef, joined in the condemnation of the attacks. "This will make things so much worse. It will not solve anything," he said. "The Palestinian and Iraqi problem has not been solved by violence so how can this be? There could have been peaceful justice. I'm disappointed that there wasn't."

Some in the community were too angry to talk. Male worshippers at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, where the hard-line imam, Abu Hamza Al' Masri, heads prayers, told journalists to "clear off". Guarded by a parked police car, the Muslims closed their doors to visitors in a display of hostility and anger.

But just around the corner, Fadi Itani, the director of Muslim Welfare House Mosque, was more conciliatory. He expressed his dismay at the Western reprisal attacks but called for calm across the Muslim community. "I believe terrorism is a cancer and I condemn the events of 11 September wholeheartedly. But you do not kill the patient to remove the cancer," he said. "Fighting terrorism by violence is not going to solve the problem and it is not a civilised response. You have to locate the root cause by calm discussion in order to remove it."

He added that he would be urging his 1,500-strong congregation at Friday prayers to pray for an end to war and violence, not only in Afghanistan but also on the home front. The windows of his mosque were smashed by a bottle of alcohol only a few days ago.

In Oldham, the Lancashire town where race relations were fractured by riots earlier this year, there was a growing mood of anti-Americanism.

Outside the Pitt Street mosque in Glodwick, Khalid Mahmood, 27, warned of a "creeping imperialism" and the sense that an attack on Afghanistan was essentially an attack on Islam itself. "What's happened to international law?" Mr Mahmood said. "This is a sovereign state. The evidence is unconvincing. Just because the pilots said 'Osama' doesn't mean he was the instigator. It demands more time and thought."

Members of the mosque council, arriving for afternoon prayers, urged Mr Mahmood to differentiate his views from those of the mosque. But they clearly shared the sentiment, if not the force with which it was delivered. Ahmed Ali, the mosque council's 28-year-old general secretary and a co-ordinator of the Glodwick Forum said: "We are all against terrorism but killing citizens is a crime, whether it's committed in the US or Afghanistan."

Officials at Regents Park mosque urged Muslims not to take an aggressive approach to the bombings but in the same breath they expressed their strong disapproval of the attacks. Sheikh Dr Anas Abushady, the deputy director of the mosque, said the attacks on Afghanistan were unjustified. "Just as we condemned the killings of innocent people in America, so we feel it is equally unacceptable that the people of Afghanistan have been attacked indiscriminately on the presumption of uprooting terrorism. This will undoubtedly lead to the loss of innocent lives.

"Terrorism is unacceptable to any right-minded Muslim and there is no ground for it in our religion. But it cannot be dealt with in the manner we witnessed on Sunday night, as the innocent and guilty have received the same treatment."

A group of Muslim students has arranged a follow-on protest to the anti-war protests outside Downing Street to highlight its disgust at the air strikes, alongside CND.

A poignant expression of anger came from the Pakistani-born Mohommed Khawaja, who stood outside Brent mosque in Willesden Green looking bleary-eyed and sorrowful. The attacks had upset Mr Khawaja so much that he had not slept all night. Having regarded himself a Briton for more than 30 years, the attack on Sunday signified a watershed moment. Mr Khawaja, 69, denounced Britain. "I feel heartbroken. I was proud to be British but today I am ashamed. This wasn't a war against Islam but it became so when innocent Afghans were attacked. If I were a younger man, I would go out there and fight myself. But I can only pray for peace now."

* The Archbishop of Canterbury warned yesterday that the bombardment of Afghanistan should not be seen as a conflict between religions.

Dr George Carey was one of 20 religious leaders who met the Prime Minister at Downing Street. The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave the military strikes against terrorism his complete backing, saying he would pray for their success.

Downing Street said all the leaders at the meeting gave their support for the Government's stance but there were signs that the assault on Afghanistan had alienated mainstream Muslim clerics. Yousuf Bhailok, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he had "reservations in the strongest terms" about the air strikes.

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