Muslims 'shown in positive light' after Birmingham riots

By Sitala Peek
BBC News, Birmingham

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBirmingham Muslims' response to the Winson Green deaths have shown them in a more positive light in the media, according to one observer

The Birmingham riots in August, culminating in the deaths of three men while they were protecting their community stores from looters, were a dark chapter in the city's history.

However, one unexpected benefit of the disorder may have been a positive change in the way British Muslims are viewed by society, according to one academic.

Dr Chris Allen, an expert on Islamophobia at the University of Birmingham, said Muslims had historically been portrayed in a negative light by the British media, resulting in widespread mistrust.

That prejudice was turned on its head by the actions of a grieving father, Tariq Jahan, who publicly appealed for calm, just hours after his son was killed in the riots, he said.

Mr Jahan's response has been credited by police for helping to restore calm to the city.

After conducting surveys with Birmingham Muslims about the riots Dr Allen said some Muslims felt the world now had a better understanding of them.

He said: "While some groups were rioting in the city centre many from the Muslim and Sikh community had chosen to take to the streets on the outskirts to protect their local community and the businesses that operate in them."

Haroon Jahan, 21, and his two friends, brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, were run over and killed following a second night of rioting on 9 August.

Shortly after the deaths, Mr Jahan said: "Please respect the memory of our sons and the grief of our family and loved ones by staying away and not going out tonight."

He added: "I believe that people can stay calm, if you look around here there are black, brown, white and yellow people. They are all my community. We live together and we can stay together."

Aisha Iqbal, from the Young Muslims Advisory Group (YMAG) in Birmingham, said: "The dignity of Tariq Jahan and the Muslim community's response to his appeals for calm, portrayed us how we actually see ourselves."

Miss Iqbal, whose organisation advises the government on Muslims' views of extremism in Britain, said: "The Muslims you see in the media are so far removed from the reality of how we live.

"You see Muslims in the news in connection with terrorism or criminality, something that most people have never been involved with - and Muslims are no different - but that's how people think we are, because that's all they see."

Birmingham racial equality campaigner Maxi Hayles said in some ways the opportunistic looting and riots had helped to unify Birmingham's diverse communities.

image copyrightPA
image captionMuslims joined other faith communities to pay respect to the three men who died in Winson Green

He said the lack of retaliation for the Winson Green deaths and the way the city's many faith and non-faith communities came together to pay tribute to the three men showed how united and strong Birmingham's multicultural population was.

He said: "I think it showed Muslims in a positive light against a background of great instability at that time.

"It showed they could keep a lid on it and that they can forgive."

Dr Allen said strong family ties and a desire not to shame their families may have contributed to the decision for Muslims to heed Mr Jahan's pleas.

He said many Muslims he had interviewed in the aftermath had also mentioned the role they felt their faith had played in discouraging violent behaviour during Ramadan.

More on this story

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.