In one London neighbourhood, a sense of shared destiny has given rise to a positive outcome — rather than pushing them apart, recent hate crimes have brought Jews and Muslims closer together.
Hate crimes against both Jews and Muslims surged in the U.K. last year, marked by dozens of violent assaults in London alone.
The brutal murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in 2013, as well as the recent synagogue shooting in Copenhagen and the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, have further inflamed relations between the groups.
But in at least one north London neighbourhood, that sense of shared destiny has given rise to a positive outcome — rather than pushing them apart, the attacks have brought the two religions in Stamford Hill closer together.
Among other things, the neighbourhood is renowned for the Shomrim community patrol, a sophisticated neighbourhood watch of 70 to 80 Jewish volunteers who protect Stamford Hill — for both Jew and Muslim alike.
Now the Muslim community is prepared to return the favour if a protest organized by an anti-Semitic right-wing group goes ahead this weekend.
“Our community will all be joined together hand in hand,” says Eusoof Amerat, one of the founders of the North London Mosque.
He and his fellow Muslims intend to rally against the “Liberate Stamford Hill” protest planned for Sunday. The organizer of the protest is Joshua Bonehill, an ultra-nationalist who aspires to end the “Jewification of Stamford Hill.”
Following the extremist-inspired hacking death of Rigby in Greenwich, the backlash against the Muslim community was swift and vicious.
Pig’s heads and blood were thrown at the doors of several mosques. A north London Somali Muslim centre was burned to the ground — a crime police suspect was tied to the nationalist English Defence League — and a Muslim student was fatally stabbed in what Essex police believe may have been a hate crime.
In 2013 London’s Metropolitan Police tallied 549 Islamophobic offences in the city, a number that rose to 611 last year. Anti-Semitism is also on the rise. Last year the police tracked 400 anti-Semitic offences in London, up from 169 a year earlier.
Concerned about the violent anti-Islam attacks, members of the North London Mosque reached out to their 30,000 Hasidic Jewish neighbours for help. Rather than have them “think there are radicalized people” in the mosque, said Amerat, “we said, ‘OK brother, let’s work together.’
“Trust can only be built by working together.”
The call prompted the long-established Shomrim neighbourhood watch to keep a close eye out for the safety of the mosque and their Muslim neighbours.
The borough’s police commander praised the effort as one “everybody else around the world could probably take something from.”
Across the road from the mosque is a Jewish primary school. On the street young Haredi and Muslim children on scooters shout excitedly and weave between women in niqabs and hijabs as they cross paths with Hasidic women pushing prams.
Rabbi Elhanan Beck, who has lived in Stamford Hill for 28 years, says it’s “wonderful how the two communities live together peacefully and in harmony.”
One of the reasons the two communities flourish here is the commonalities in Orthodox Judaism and Islam, said Beck, who moved from a Hasidic community near Montreal.
Since 2000, the two groups have collaborated on advocacy around issues as varied as circumcision, coroner’s practices, and Halal and Kosher foods. They’ve even honed the ballet of cars arriving and leaving during each group’s prayer times to reduce traffic tension.
“It’s been like this as long as I can remember. There are no problems at all,” said Ikram Malji, 27, who has lived in the community his whole life.
People from outside the community “will come and try to break us,” said Amerat, but “we will be there supporting each other.”