Following reports that it was going to be the focus of a protest promoted online by supporters of the English Defence League, a York mosque prepared for the potentially volatile situation by getting in plenty of tea and biscuits. Around half a dozen people arrived for the protest and nailed a St Georges flag to the wooden fence in front of the mosque. However, once the invitation into the mosque was accepted, tensions were rapidly defused over tea and custard creams followed by an impromptu game of football. Councillor Neil Barnes said “I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day that the York Mosque tackled anger and hatred with peace and warmth – and I won’t forget the sight of a Muslim offering a protester tea and biscuits with absolute sincerity.”
Mohamed El-Gomatia, a lecturer at the University of York, explained “People are focusing on their differences. We felt that another response was needed, one that might provide a calm space in which we could listen to, and hear, one another” and he remembered a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “If the world’s problems were brought to the Prophet Muhammad, he would solve them over a cup of tea”. He reported that when they listened, they realised that the EDL may have thought that they supported extremist behaviour and the Taliban. They were quick to point out that they condemned both in the strongest terms. The protestors were surprised, and they understood.
He went on to add that “Assumptions are dangerous, untested assumptions can be lethal. If we don’t listen openly, we will not explore avenues that might lead to a better conclusion, and we could drive views underground. We all need to meet in a space that is above and beyond our differences and discover our similarities. We all love our children and care about their future. If we do not work together they are in possible jeopardy – there are very good reasons for us to work hard to find a way forward. We all need to learn from one another. I say: sit down with a cup of tea and don’t shout at each other. Listen. And hear.”
photo by: Dr. Meierhofer