Kashif Ahmed pointed to a hole in the middle of the mosque’s carpet where the smoke grenade landed. On 22 May this year Geoffrey Ryan kicked open the front door of the Al Falah mosque in Braintree, Essex, tossed the incendiary device inside, and brandishing two kitchen knives threatened to kill worshippers. Five hours earlier, Drummer Lee Rigby had been murdered on the streets of Woolwich, south-east London. Muslim convert Michael Adebolajo has been charged with the killing.
The mood among many Muslim communities in the aftermath of Woolwich remains fearful. In the months since then, Braintree’s only mosque has been strikingly modified. The front door is now protected by a security code, CCTV cameras monitor the entrance and police patrols frequently pass by.
Ahmed, who lives in nearby Chelmsford, believes community relations in Braintree have broadly improved since the attacks, citing gestures of support from local church groups, businesses and schools. During the recent month of Ramadan, police guarded the mosque every night for two or three hours to ensure that late-night drinkers could not cause trouble. “When people are drunk, everybody has a problem. Anybody who looks different – for example, if they have a funny haircut – can get targeted,” said Ahmed.
But the voice of dissent is again soon evident. Sheila, who has lived in south Harlow for 40 years, said some residents were worried about a perceived increase in the number of Muslims. “It’s getting bad, people have had enough,” she said. “I remember we managed to stop it [the Islamic centre] turning into a mosque. They were going to bring the dead bodies in, despite it being next door to the school. People don’t want that.”
Yet the truth is that the town’s Muslim population of 2,000 out of a total of 82,000 keeps a low profile. The Islamic centre is discreetly located on the town’s southern periphery, barely visible from the road. “I’ve been driving past it for three years and never even noticed it.
Yet the aftermath of the Woolwich attacks has drawn attention to the fact that the far right, particularly the EDL, is behind many of the attacks, with the group recently linked to a third of cases of Islamophobic abuse online.