'Beautiful gestures from local community mean a lot to Muslims here'

Fazel Ryklief with the tribute left by a non-Muslim woman at the South Circular Road mosque.

The arrival of a woman at the mosque bearing flowers was a “beautiful gesture”, one that meant a lot to the Muslim community, a senior member of the mosque said.

Fazel Ryklief, of the Islamic Foundation of Ireland (IFI) mosque in Dublin’s south inner city, said it was one of a number of gestures from the non-Muslim community. Phone calls and emails came in shortly after news emerged of the terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, with children believed to be among the dead.

“We’ve had phone calls and emails from people expressing sympathy,” Mr Ryklief said. “I had an old man on the phone saying he would like to come to the mosque and say prayers. A lady came and left a bunch of flowers, a non-Muslim woman, who lives locally. She had tears in her eyes handing them to me and we chatted for 10 minutes.”

He said a note she wrote with the flowers said: “Salaam [Peace be upon you], we stand together with you, Insha Allah [God willing].”

“It was a beautiful gesture, they were all very nice gestures. They made me feel a lot better. It means a lot to me and to our community. Sometimes, there’s a feeling in the community that the whole world is against us, but it’s not like that – there are many great people outside our religion.”

The IFI, better known as the South Circular Road mosque, is one of the busiest in the country and is located along a busy artery. Mr Ryklief said that when he first learned of the terror attacks in Christchurch, he had an instinctive reaction:

“I felt a strange sensation approaching anxiety and worry. I phoned a garda and asked was it possible to come a little earlier before prayer to meet people and maybe to ask Kevin Street Garda Station to send a patrol car to pass us, to make a presence felt. I rang because of the way I felt.”

He explained that the community gardaí held clinics at the mosque every month and that the mosque had “good relationships” with them.

“I’m not sure why I reacted that way, but I had a feeling that something was not quite right. I’m not saying something like that is going to happen here. I don’t feel safe. It’s very difficult to describe, but the anxiety is still there, like a knot in my tummy. I have a feeling that something is not quite right, that the situation is just getting worse.”

With the mosque just feet in from the footpath, he said they often felt exposed to a possible attack.

What if someone was to throw a bomb in [during prayers] through the windows? People are all massed in here, most would die. What if some crazy person or right-wing fanatic did this? We are so accessible here, so vulnerable.

“I fear for my children. What’s the future in this world, not just for Muslims, but all people.”

Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, head imam at the Islamic Centre of Ireland in Blanchardstown, west Dublin, said he, too, contacted gardaí after the attack was reported.

“I spoke to the head of the inter-racial unit and asked him could we have a garda presence at our mosque for prayer, just to give our community a sense of comfort.”

The Garda Press Office told the Irish Examiner

that the force had built up a “productive and positive relationship” with the Muslim community over many years.

It said: “As part of this and to provide support following the terrible events in New Zealand, community gardai will be attending Friday prayer in their local mosque and making themselves available to those communities.”

Dr Al-Qadri said that even in countries like New Zealand, in which the vast majority of the Muslim population had a positive experience, such right-wing atrocities could occur.

“It shows you what can happen in the most stable of countries and shows you that law enforcement and social media must clamp down on any extremist material, whether it against Muslims, Jews or the LGBT community or whatever.”

He said there had been an increase in right-wing attacks across Europe, with mosques in Britain, Belgium, Netherlands and France being targeted, but not getting much media publicity.

“Hate speech online has increased and it’s very worrying and I’ve noticed more accounts in Ireland promoting it. Having seen what has happened in New Zealand, I do not think any country, including Ireland, is immune to radicalism and extremism. We need to increase our efforts. We need to reach out to each other and promote understanding.”

He called for on the Government to develop an extremism policy, one that focused not on one form, such as Islamic extremism, but included right-wing extremism.

Dr Paul Gill, associate professor at University College London’s Security & Crime Science Department, agreed and said Ireland needed a “joined up approach” to combat all forms of extremism. The Irish academic, who has authored a book based on extensive research on lone wolf terrorists, said such a policy needed preventative measures as well as a “centralised intelligence function to detect, manage and mitigate the risks posed by all forms of violent extremism”.

He said that the Global Terrorism Database, compiled at the University of Maryland, showed how “rare” terrorism was in New Zealand, with 20 attacks in more than 30 years, with one fatality.

“For New Zealand, this attack looks like a complete outlier,” Dr Gill said. “Looking beyond New Zealand’s borders, it is the latest in a series of mass atrocity attacks drawing from the same pool of grievances against immigrant communities.

“This is a large-scale movement of people enabling one another and seeking to inspire similar attacks elsewhere. Ireland should not think itself immune.”

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