‘It absolutely sickens me’ – Kings Heath residents come together following brutal attack on mosque worshipper
Residents and activists have gathered in Kings Heath to show solidarity with an elderly man who was brutally attacked while walking home from a local mosque in the Birmingham suburb.
The 73-year-old victim was left injured following the shocking assault as he walked home from Kings Heath Mosque on Wednesday (29 March) after Ramadan prayers.
The vicious attack took place as the man was walking along York Road at around 11pm, with the victim suffering multiple injuries – a head injury after smashing it on a display board, a broken hand, and cuts to his face; resulting in him being rushed to hospital.
The victim has now been discharged from hospital to continue recovering at home with his family, but well-wishers have expressed concerns about safety on city streets in light of the incident.
At a gathering in York Road outside the Hare & Hounds and Fletcher’s Bar & Eatery – the spot where the attack took place – around 50 people from across Birmingham came together in a show of support for the victim of the assault.
Organised by local residents, the tight-knit rally took place on Saturday 1 April and was dominated by a display of messages against hate and racism.
The Kings Heath attack is the second assault against a Muslim man leaving a Birmingham mosque in recent weeks, and the third nationally in just over a month.
Although the West Midlands Police have not confirmed a motive for the latest assault, activists believe the attacks are a direct result of a rise in Islamophobic sentiment.
“I’m here because there was an attack right here on this street which is in my own neighbourhood. It was a man leaving the mosque, which sounds a lot like a hate crime,” Karen Skinazi told I Am Birmingham.
Skinazi is a member of Jewish-Muslim unity group Nisa-Nashim, which works towards fostering better relations between communities.
“I’m also part of an ethnic minority group, it’s really important to me to stand up for my fellow minorities and my fellow neighbours, in fact, and I was really appalled by this and it was just really important for me to come out and show solidarity.
“I think that as a Jewish person, when there are antisemitic crimes, a lot of Jews get very upset, this happens time and again; but it’s not that meaningful unless other people actually say something too. In the exact same way, when a Muslim is attacked, other people who are not Muslims need to stand up and say this is not okay.
“It’s very obvious that the Muslims will be upset but the rest of us need to show that we’re very upset by this too. We need to stand up for each other.”
Retired GP Ali Zafar has served the local community for years. He personally knows the victim – whose name has not been officially released – and fears for the safety of others in the neighbourhood.
“The victim happens to be a family friend, so I knew him anyway and I was shocked like everybody else,” he said.
“It’s very sad, very sad, because he’s such a nice man and more or less, it’s completely unprovoked.”
“He’s walking back home from finishing his prayer at the mosque and why somebody would… some guys would pounce on him, I have no idea and I think it’s very sad that you can’t walk these streets on your own and be safe.”
Zafar said he welcomed the initiative for people to congregate in a visible space in defiance of the attackers.
“I think it’s great, people have given up their time to stand up on a Saturday morning to say we are all in it together, and we are against racism and Islamophobia, and I think that’s great really. First time I’ve come and I’m quite surprised to see the numbers turning up here today.”
He added that attacks like this were on the rise due to current perceptions about the Muslim community: “It is on the rise because obviously we hear about Islamophobia, people have so many misconceptions about Muslims and Islam and therefore they make up their own mind.
“Of course, it’s also politically driven, we see a lot of immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers coming from predominantly Muslim countries and of course, people propagate that it’s like an invasion of the country.”
On the corner of York Road and Kings Heath High Street, a Stand Up To Racism stall was set up with leaflets, a banner and posters stating “Racists not welcome in Kings Heath”, along with a Ramadan greeting card for attendees to leave goodwill messages for the victim of the attack.
“We as a community, we’ve always stuck together and we should be so proud today of the solidarity we’re showing and we should continue to show that solidarity,” Musurut Dar told the crowd.
“We need to educate our young, we need to counteract those messages of hate and division, it needs to start with us as parents, so that our young people are equipped to counteract and be critical of the messages of the state that cause those divisions. So, solidarity with everybody, let’s carry on showing our solidarity, let’s stand against hate.”
The event was hastily arranged as a means of bringing people together following news two teenagers had been arrested by police.
Local residents were joined by local politicians, police and representatives from community groups including Brum Against Hate.
Saima Razzaq, a co-founder of the LGBTQ+ group, described both the recent Kings Heath assault and Edgbaston fire attack as “horrific” and said the incident on York Road left her feeling “scared”.
“I’m here today as a Muslim woman supporting my community in light of the horrific attacks that have been targeting the Muslim community of Birmingham.
“Birmingham is a diverse and inclusive city, we don’t have space for hate in our city so I’m here to show my solidarity.”
However, Razzaq was critical of authorities not officially identifying the latest incident as a “racist attack”.
“I think the West Midlands Police really need to step up now, this isn’t the first time the Pakistani or Muslim community in Birmingham have received hate crimes.
“From the police’s perspective, it would seem that Islamophobia doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case when you’re a Muslim living in Birmingham so we really need West Midlands Police to step up and show some initiative to conquer that hate that we’re constantly being targeted with.”
City artist Jane Thakoordin helped create posters bearing the words “Brummies united against racism and hate crime”, which were distributed during the rally, and have been displayed in local shop windows.
“Well, it’s sickens me, it absolutely sickens me, my dad’s the same age as this gentleman.
“We’ve seen this kind of rise in really, kind of anti-Islamic hatred anyway across our country, haven’t we, but to see it in such disgusting, kind of, stark imagery on our doorstep. It’s just horrendous. I hate to see in it.”
She said it was important to come together “for us to show that individual gentleman that we’re standing beside him and his family.”
“It also send the message out to the wider community that we are a city of solidarity and sanctuary, we’re a community of support, you harm one person, you harm us all really. No matter what colour we are, no matter what age or gender, whoever we are, we’re human being first and foremost, aren’t we?”
Moseley resident Radley Russell feels important the community bands together to prevent similar attacks.
“What has happened to Uncle during the week was just absolutely disgusting and cowardly of what those young boys have done.
“I’ve come here up from Moseley, because I live over in Moseley, up to Kings Heath to show my support and to stand up to racism”.
Radley said that as a community, “we don’t like hate, we don’t like racism, we don’t like crime, and we actually want to be together to make sure we can root and call out all this nonsense.”
Sean Naylor, 26, joined the rally as he was walking past on a shop run. The local resident said he could relate to being targeted and wanted to show his support.
“I may be white but I know something about hate, I’m autistic myself so I’ve had a few offensive comments made but it’s maybe worse for someone who’s maybe Black or Asian.
“I saw it on the news but you say to yourself all the time that this couldn’t possibly happen to my place or whatever but then like… I live down the road by Brandwood End Cemetery and this close to home.
“Hopefully, even if this makes a small impact then it still counts as something.”
Kings Heath Mosque has been providing volunteers to walk worshippers home following the incident, but community officials have urged the public to refrain from vigilantism.
Speaking at the rally, veteran anti-racism campaigner Mukhtar Dar said acts of hate should not be confronted with more hate.
“It’s important that we don’t allow our streets to become streets of fear, where our people, our communities feel that they can’t walk the streets, our elderly people feel that they can’t walk too.
“We cannot allow our communities to live under siege conditions, we need to reclaim our streets we need to make sure our streets are safe.
“We need to make sure that everybody understands their responsibility as a local resident to come out in defence of somebody of that age, so that’s why it’s important that we don’t brush the issue under the carpet, that we come out into the streets, reclaim the streets and we isolate the racists.
“These are our streets, these are our communities and it’s the racists we need to challenge and isolate those rather than the victims of racism feeling isolated.”