Muslim women are facing routine racist abuse on the streets of the UK, Jeremy Corbyn has said while visiting mosques participating in a nationwide open day to build bridges across communities.
“Islamophobia is a real problem in our society, as is other forms of racism like antisemitism and racism against people of Afro-Caribbean heritage,” the Labour leader said at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London.
“I’ve held meetings with Muslim women who have told me horrific stories of routine racist abuse on our streets. If women are abused because they are wearing a headscarf, then it is a wrong against them and it is a wrong against all of us.”
Finsbury Park mosque was among more than 200 Muslim places of worship to take part in Visit My Mosque day, organised by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). From Inverness to Cornwall, mosques invited people of other faiths and no faith to witness prayers, ask questions, read the Qur’an, take part in hijab and henna demonstrations and eat traditional food in an effort to debunk myths about Islam.
For the Finsbury Park mosque and nearby Muslim Welfare Centre, it was the first set-piece open day since a terror attack last June, in which Darren Osborne drove his van into a group of people leaving prayers, killing one person and injuring 12 others. Osborne was jailed for a minimum of 43 years earlier this month for the attack, which the judge said was motivated by an “ideology of hate towards Muslims”.
Mohammed Mahmoud, the imam of the Muslim Welfare Centre who was hailed as a hero after the attack for urging people in the crowd not to harm Osborne and delivering him to the police, said the attack “realised people’s fears and left the community in shock”.
Mahmoud, who gave evidence at Osborne’s trial, said “any person would have done what I did. The effect [of the attack] on me is irrelevant compared to the victims and the bereaved.”
He added: “The rise of extremist rightwing groups is a very serious threat not just to Muslims but to all minorities, and in fact to all Britons, and to the interwoven fabric that holds this country together. The way to combat this is to have open and frank dialogue; barring and banning can only breed further hate and division.”
Although the Muslim Welfare Centre had been holding open days for more than 30 years, the coordinated nationwide initiative was important because “most people have a negative perception of what a mosque is without ever going inside one”, he said.
Research recently conducted on behalf of the MCB found that 90% of Britons have never visited a mosque, and one in four said they did not know any Muslims. Almost three-quarters have never been into another faith’s place of worship.
“This is not good for social cohesion. In a time of increasing intolerance and rising misunderstanding of faith communities, we should all be opening our doors to others,” said Harun Khan, the secretary general of the MCB.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary and a north London MP, held a private meeting on Sunday with women from the Finsbury Park mosque to discuss their concerns about rising abuse and attacks. “Muslim women are particularly vulnerable,” she said.
Fatima, a volunteer at the mosque who declined to give her full name, said it was a “scary time” for Muslim women.
“Politicians talk about the lack of integration, but women are frightened to leave their homes. Many women feel marginalised and judged, and ostracised because of their faith,” she said.
Visitors to the mosque – once associated with the radical cleric Abu Hamza but now a model of community relations – were given red roses, copies of the Qur’an and headscarves as gifts.
For David, 72, who described himself as an atheist, it was his first time inside a mosque. “I wanted to educate myself. It has changed my views. I thought none of them wanted to integrate, but they’re not like that at all. And the food is good.”
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