British Muslim Gathering to Reflect on London Bombings

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This weekend, about 4,500 British Muslims gathered in northeast England for a festival called Living Islam. It's a chance for British Muslims to reflect on the London bombings and its repercussions, reaffirm their beliefs — and have some fun.


This month's bomb attacks in London have put Great Britain's Muslim population on the defensive as it deals with threats of reprisals and revenge attacks. This weekend, about 4,500 British Muslims gathered in northeast England for a festival called Living Islam. As NPR's Rachel Martin reports, it's a chance for British Muslims to reflect about the repercussions of the bombings, reaffirm their beliefs as a community and have some fun.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Living Islam is one part summer camp, one part religious retreat and two parts festival. Hundreds of blue tents lined up in rows cover the Lincolnshire Showgrounds. There are tent areas for families, as well as separate men's and women's camps. In the center of the camp is a playground, where hundreds of parents, like 37-year-old Nureen Saddiq(ph) of Leicester, watch as their children run around. Saddiq says the Living Islam camp is a place where she can put her guard down.

Ms. NUREEN SADDIQ (Attending Living Islam Camp): And it's all-Islamic. You can let your children wander around and having nothing to worry about. It is like a big family.

MARTIN: The Living Islam weekend was started a few years ago by the Islamic Society of Britain. This year, close to 5,000 people registered for the four-day-long event, but hundreds of those families didn't show up. Twenty-one-year-old Efran Yashid(ph) is an event volunteer. He says he thinks the bombing attacks this month in London and the fear of reprisals have kept some people away.

Mr. EFRAN YASHID (Living Islam Volunteer): People are thinking, `What do we do? What's happened? Do we come out? Do we stay in, go back into our shells or'--and I think this has brought people out and it's brought people together, and it's a testament to what Muslims in this country, British Muslims, are like.

MARTIN: Thirty-something-year-old Mahmouda Kareshi(ph) from Birmingham agrees. Pushing a baby stroller with one hand and trying to settle her two young boys with the other, she looks for a seat on the grass for afternoon prayers as volunteers direct the crowd.

Unidentified Woman: ...(Unintelligible) if you could join the side row, please, and make sure no cups are left.

MARTIN: Mahmouda Kareshi says the recent terrorist attacks have given her the chance to teach her five-year-old son about other religions, cultures and the difference between right and wrong.

Ms. MAHMOUDA KARESHI (Attending Living Islam Camp): He does know that Islam is a peaceful religion. So, like, for instance, the terrorist attacks that took place in London--told him that they're not Muslims, because they're not practicing Islam, they're not following the Koran's teachings. So when you...

(Soundbite of greeting over loudspeaker)

Mr. MUNIR AHMED (President, Islamic Society of Britain): (Foreign language spoken) May Allah have mercy on you. (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: Munir Ahmed is the president of the Islamic Society of Britain and a prominent community leader. After singing the last of the afternoon prayers, he takes times to greet the dozens of people who've lined up to talk with him or to shake his hand. Ahmed says the pressure of recent events is an opportunity for British Muslims to open up and talk more publicly about Islam, but he says he's tired of feeling like he has to apologize for the actions of a few.

Mr. AHMED: Why are we apologizing? We haven't--I haven't done anything wrong. Why am I apologizing? It happens, as in all the world, that you get bad apples in every society, every community, every color, every religion. But we don't dump it on that whole country or race.

MARTIN: Ahmed says there have been some revenge attacks against Muslims in Great Britain since the July bombings. He says a mosque near Liverpool was set on fire, and there have been reports that Muslim women wearing hijab, the Islamic head scarf, have been verbally abused. Ahmed also said local politicians from Lincoln issued threats when they learned of the Living Islam event.

Mr. AHMED: There have been voices which have been full of hatred, saying that we need to relook at Islam, relook at our holy book, reinterpret it, remove things from it, you know. They have no right to say that. But we're not afraid of--you know, in the end, as we say, this way of life is an open book. We've got nothing to hide, and let people come and see.

MARTIN: British Muslim leaders say there is a new urgency to develop programs that help integrate Muslims into British society, and they hope the next Living Islam weekend, planned for summer 2007, will incorporate people from all different faiths. Rachel Martin, NPR News, London.

HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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