Muslims told not to travel as retaliation fears grow

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The Independent Online

"Everyone is subdued and people are wondering what has happened," he said, surveying his depleted customer base. "People are asking how will it affect us, are we going to be treated in a nice way after this? We have nothing to do with this."

The explosions prompted the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) to issue the extraordinary advice yesterday that no Muslim should travel or go out unless strictly necessary, for fear of reprisals. The Muslim Association of Britain said women in headscarves were at particular risk, asked police to consider extra protection for mosques and Islamic schools, and also warned Muslims against unnecessary journeys.

"It is scary. A tiny element of the community will make use of this," said the Muslim Association's president Ahmed Sheikh. "In the event of being attacked, [do] not to retaliate and report the matter to the police and authorities," said the IHRC.

The first hint of the aggression both groups feared came in a threatening e-mail about the explosions to Ahmed Versi, editor of Muslim News. "Visible aspects of Islam, such as mosques, community centres and women with headscarves" may be attacked, he said.

Dr Mohammed Naseem, chairman of the Birmingham central mosque, questioned the IHRC's advice and said it was "a bit over the top". But the anxieties voiced by most Muslim groups provided a depressing reminder of how individuals of non-British extraction have found themselves blamed for events such as the 11 September terrorist attacks and the Madrid train bombings last year.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick disassociated Islam and terrorism. "The words Islam and terrorist do not go together," he said. "These acts go totally against what I understand is the Muslim faith."

Muslim groups also issued swift condemnations of the attacks. The Muslim Council of Britain said it "utterly condemns the perpetrators of what appears to be a series of co-ordinated attacks". It added: "These evil deeds makes victims of us all. The evil people who planned and carried out these series of explosions in London want to demoralise us as a nation and divide us as a people. All of us must unite in helping the police to capture these murderers."

The churches also came to the help of community relations. On a visit to Yorkshire, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams stressed that he had spent the morning with Muslims. "We are all as one in our condemnation of this evil and in our shared sense of compassion."

The Hindu Forum of Britain also appealed to faith communities to not allow themselves to be divided. Secretary general Ramesh Kallidai said one of the most "shameful fall-outs of terrorism" was that it "aims to divide communities by creating fear and suspicion". He added: "Britain is a good example of a multicultural society where all faith communities live together peacefully. It is now more important than ever to ensure we do not succumb to terrorism by allowing ourselves to be divided."

The Bishop of Stepney, who made a joint appearance with the chairman of the East London mosque spoke together outside the Royal London Hospital, warned that "speculation without knowledge" (as to the perpetrators) was "a very dangerous thing" and added: "We do not want people to divide communities because they are either angry or afraid. We are all caught up in this together irrespective of our religions." The Bishop of London also condemned the "indiscriminate slaughter of Londoners, Christians and Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, all without distinction."

The IHRC's fears of reprisals against Muslims are borne of an intimate knowledge of how life for many British Muslims was changed after 11 September, 2001. In just the first four months after the terrorist hijackings in the US, the organisation logged details of more than 400 attacks on Muslims in Britain - four times the number it had received in an entire year since it was established in 1998.

Despite yesterday's warning, Karim Mohammed ventured out across London from his restaurant. "I will not become a prisoner in my own home," he said. "That kind of advice is frightening people who have to go to work. We have to believe that the Government will protect us."