EDL invited in for tea and biscuits at York mosque

When Muhammad el-Gomati, a lecturer at York University, heard that the EDL was planning to protest outside his local mosque last Sunday, he decided to take the initiative

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Can the EDL find common ground with Muslims?
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Ghaffar Hussain
On 28 May 2013 13:25

When Muhammad el-Gomati, a lecturer at York University, heard that the EDL was planning to protest outside his local mosque last Sunday, he decided to take the initiative. In a wise move, he decided to organise an open day to coincide with the EDL protest. Around 200 local residents accepted an open invitation and decided to come to the mosque to enjoy tea, biscuits and a chat with their Muslim neighbours.

A small gathering of EDL members also arrived and decided to protest outside the mosque. I'm not sure what they intended to achieve by protesting outside a mosque in York, but they soon attracted the attention of those attending the open day. They were eventually approached and a heated argument ensued. After a short while, a tray of tea and biscuits was sent over and EDL members, to their credit, accepted to join the others for a drink.

With cups of tea lowering tensions, a few member of the protesting group were eventually invited into the mosque and shown around. Dialogue continued throughout the day, some common ground was reached and the day ended with a game of 5 aside football on the grass.

When interviewed, el-Gomati commented: “There is the possibility of having dialogue. Even the EDL who were having a shouting match started talking and we found out that we share and are prepared to agree that violent extremism is wrong. We have to start there. Who knows, perhaps the EDL will invite us to an event and the Muslim community will be generous in accepting that invitation?"

El-Gomati's comments illustrate the importance of dialogue between communities outside of TV studios, which is not an ideal environment in which to seek common ground. It also shows the impact a simple gesture of good-will, in this case a cup of tea, can have.

The York mosque incident is a heart-warming story indeed, especially since it occurred amidst the chaotic aftermath of the Woolwich attack, in which extremist ideologues on both sides did their best to heighten tensions. But there are always other stories that take place in communities amongst ordinary people that rarely get highlighted by the mainstream media.

Shortly after the Woolwich attack I tweeted that mosques up and down the country should organise more open-days and get more involved in mainstream community projects and initiatives. The perceived isolation and inward-looking nature of many Muslims communities can often contribute to suspicions, which are fed by media reporting, of Islamist extremism and sex-grooming gangs.

Of course, ordinary Muslims should not be held responsible or accountable for the actions of a few violent extremists. But in these difficult times, all members of society should do more to reach out to their neighbours and encourage co-operation and dialogue on troubling issues. In this regard, mosques can play a pivotal role, as York illustrated. Let's just hope more mosques follow York's lead.

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator. Follow him on Twitter @GhaffarH

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