Terror attack anniversary brings calls for action on Islamophobia
- Credit: Julius Lawless-Master
The daughter of a man killed in the Finsbury Park terror attack paid tribute to his legacy, five years on.
Makram Ali – a 51-year-old husband, father and grandfather – was murdered when terrorist Darren Osborne drove a van into worshippers outside the Muslim Welfare House in Seven Sisters Road on June 19, 2017.
His family, members of Islington Council and faith leaders gathered at Finsbury Park Mosque on Sunday [June 19], marking five years since the attack, in which 12 other people were injured.
Ruzina Akhtar, Makram’s daughter, told those at the service: “Our dad was first and foremost one of the most gentle human beings you could have met, who always had a smile on his face and was cracking jokes at the most random of times to make others laugh.
“He was a compassionate husband, a loving father and doting grandfather who was adored by everyone.
“His death has left a black hole but, remembering his smile and laughter, we surround that hole with more love for one another, as he would have wanted.”
Ruzina told this newspaper: “My dad was taken from us tragically but we can take positives from events like these which allow us to celebrate his life and talk about Islamophobia.
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“If Islamophobia is being tackled, and using my dad as an example of one of its victims helps to prevent further incidents, that eases the pain.
“He has definitely left a legacy in how the community got together after the attack and we can take happiness from that.”
Osborne was sentenced to serve at least 43 years in prison after being jailed for life at Woolwich Crown Court in February 2018.
Islington’s community came together after the attack to show solidarity and condemn hatred, with many residents leaving tributes under the Seven Sisters Road Bridge.
Ruzina believes more community events and interfaith dialogue are needed to combat Islamophobia, along with increased opportunities for those affected to “voice concerns”.
Speaking at the mosque service, Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, told listeners that Islamophobia in the UK is “much worse now than it was five years ago”.
He said: “I remember the prime minister at the time, Theresa May, sitting in this room and promising that steps and actions will be taken seriously to tackle this disease which causes Islamophobia.
“Even still we don’t have a definition of Islamophobia.
“In fact, it is much worse now than it was five years ago, with the institutionalisation of Islamophobia by this government and some sections of the media.
“We as Muslims are still feeling the effects of this attack and we won’t feel safe until Islamophobia is taken seriously by the authorities and the police.”
Matt Jukes, assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, paid tribute to Makram at the service, and told this newspaper: "One thing we absolutely need is the mechanisms and the confidence, the trust, of people to report their experiences of Islamophobic and other hate crimes.
"So, whether that's through community, places of contact, or whether it's directly into the Met Police, it's hugely important that our safer neighbourhood teams, town centre teams and other investments we've made are really focused on making sure people feel they know they're there, and that they can contact and speak to the Met about those experiences."
Toufik Kacimi, chief executive of the Muslim Welfare House, where the terror attack took place, called for the “root cause” of Islamophobia to be tackled.
He added: “This incident was trying to divide us but it actually brought us together as you can see five years on we’re still coming together today.”
Cllr Roulin Khondoker, Islington's executive member for equalities, culture and inclusion, said: “It is important that we are all equal and included in our community, whatever your background or faith, and regardless of whether you were born here or flew from halfway across the world.
“Everyone is welcome here in Islington because it is our diversity that unites us as one community and family.”
Following the speeches, guests visited Makram’s memorial in Clifton Court Garden, where Ruzina said he would “run around with his grandchildren in the park”.
She said: “Everyone remembers my dad. Even though he wasn’t a talkative person, everyone knew who he was and would see him going to the mosque or walking his children to school.
“All he wanted was to be around his family, whether it was his children, wife or grandkids.”