'We are going through difficult times and we have to be very careful'

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The day after the Liverpudlian Ken Bigley's beheading 10 months ago, its young chaplain Adam Kelwick was to be found dishing out English translations of the imam's words at Friday prayers which offered proof - if any were needed - of the mosque's good intent. Yesterday he was brandishing copies of his own sermon, which provided some sense of the inner frustrations he felt. "We Muslims seem to be in the middle of everything," it stated. "We are blamed for everything." Mr Kelwick could barely have been more unequivocal in his condemnation of the London bombings. "One thing is clear: Islam does not teach that we kill innocent people," he said. But he knows this may not be enough to deter what he describes as "the lunatic element" of Islamophobes, whose presence means that some fairly dark days may lie ahead. "We are passing through very, very difficult times and we have to be very careful about how we handle it," added Mohammad Akbar Ali, chairman of the Liverpool Mosque and Islam Institute.

The prospect of reprisals against some of the city's 15,000 Muslims led Merseyside Police to post officers outside the mosque on Thursday - though to preserve an air of normality local Toxteth officers had asked for no increase in numbers for noon prayers yesterday. An ecumenical service at the city's Metropolitan cathedral on the day of the bombing has also helped develop a multicultural response to the outrage.

Worshippers were told yesterday they had "no reason to feel ashamed" and that they should go about their normal lives. "There are undesirable elements who will want to use this to antagonise Muslims," said Mr Ali, who concluded - with a little indignation: "We must do our best to keep a low profile - and yet we are not going to be trampled on." Yet in the streets beyond the mosque, the Islamophobia he told of was depressingly easy to find. "They [Muslims] need to get their house in order and sort out the young ones," said one young white mother as she walked her child up Princes Drive. "Who knows who they'll hit next," said her friend.

The prospect of reprisals - which prompted the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) to issue the extraordinary request on Thursday that no Muslim travel or go out unless strictly necessary - did not limit the range of sentiments that the bombings have engendered in the Toxteth district.

Few arguments better captured the spectrum than the one between Haroon Saman, a 55-year-old restaurant worker, and Abdullah, a young restaurant manager, aged 33. "Everyone must know that Muslims think this act is wrong. The perpetrators must be brought to justice," said Mr Saman.

"Did you say 'justice'," countered Abdullah. "What's justice? The American bombing of Baghdad in 1998 in the Ramadan, which tested the faith and anger of Muslims? The Iraq invasion. If justice means simply locking up those who did this, then that's an hypocrisy."

Mr Saman quietly demurred. "No ifs and buts. The London bombings are wrong. Plain wrong," he countered, marching off up to the mosque.

This is the fault line on which many of Toxteth's younger and older Muslims are split. Ranjid Burman, 16 - a Christian of Indian descent who is "always considered a Muslim at times like this because of my skin" - sided with Abdullah. But Abdi Horre, 49, a worker from the nearby Pakistani centre, said he had the measure of the young. "When they hear a story they think there's a right or wrong but I'm old enough to know it's more complicated than that," he said. "I tell the young boys or anyone who will listen to me: Don't get under the wrong influence."

Adam Kelwick's words to the congregation at Al Rahma (which, with its 49 nationalities, boasts a multiculturalism few mosques in Britain can match) attested to the point about the current moral ambiguities. "Yesterday, in London, on the same streets in which more than one million people marched against the war in Iraq, four terrible bombs ripped through the city and God knows how many bombs were dropped over Baghdad," he said. His prayers were for families who had suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as London.

Mr Akbar Ali, whose 48 years in Liverpool make him Islam's elder statesman in the city, wished Mr Kelwick hadn't said that. "I would have preferred [if he had not] mentioned those things at this time," he said. "Of course, we went to war illegally but now is not the time to make political statements. If you have that kind of grievance, organise a meeting, invite anyone you like - but not until this is all over."