Muslim woman describes moment she was surrounded by 'swarm' of EDL members shouting racist abuse

Dozens of far-right demonstrators marched through Birmingham on Saturday protesting 'the Islamification of Britain'

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The Independent Online

A Muslim woman has told of the moment she was surrounded by a “swarm” of angry EDL protesters at a march in Birmingham. 

Saira Zafar said she had gone to a counter-protest against a march by members of the English Defence League (EDL) because she would not allow their racist narrative to go unchallenged. 

Several dozens of the far-right group marched from New Street station to The Library of Birmingham on Saturday afternoon to protest against what they say is the “Islamification of Britain”.

Ms Zafar said she was at the back of the protest when she heard some of the comments made about Muslims and Islam, portraying them as terrorists, extremists and “a threat of some kind that needs to be tackled”. 

She told The Independent: “Now me being a Muslim, I could not stay silent. I could not allow that narrative being thrown around in public in such a central location in the city of Birmingham. [It] is such a vibrant city with so many different races and we all live alongside each other really peacefully.”

She said she began shouting “No to Islamophobia, no to war” when suddenly “they rushed towards me”. 

“It was like a swarm of them. They came at me so aggressively”, she said “They had fully surrounded me and they were trying to get past the two or three officers who were stood in front of me and the few counter protesters who were standing next to me”.

She said one man tried to put an Islamophobic sign on her head while another draped an EDL flag over her face. 

“These EDL members were trying to get past the police officers. They were shouting things like ‘you’re not English, this isn’t your country, this is a Christian country and go back to where you came from’”, she added. 

Ms Safar who was born and bred in the UK, believes she was targeted not for what she was saying but because she was “visibly a Muslim woman”. 

She said: “I was so scared and so threatened by these people. 

“Prior to me even saying a word, when they saw me there...the sort of looks I was getting from them – they were staring right through me in a really angry sort of way. The way they were looking at me... it was like they wanted to eat me.” 

She paid tribute to her fellow protesters who rush to stand by her side when she was accosted by the EDL: “It was nice to see that there were some people who came and stood side by side with me and actually put their hands on my shoulders, giving me that support, saying ‘we are here with you’. I think maybe one of them was Muslim”. 

A photo of one of those fellow protesters who came to her, Saffiyah Khan, smiling and unconcerned while an EDL protester shouts in her face has gone viral. 

Saffiyah Khan came to the aid of Ms Khan - and went viral as a result (PA)

She later told Buzzfeed: "I didn't feel threatened in the slightest way. Though later the 25ish individuals who were circling [Ms Khan] then came to circle me and the other individuals who had an issue with that situation."

Ms Khan said the picture of Birmingham painted by the EDL and others as “the Jihadi capital of Britain” was completely wrong. 

“Everybody lives alongside each other in complete harmony”, she explained. “You just have to walk into Birmingham city centre to see all people of different races, different religions living side by side”.