Toronto - Following the Manchester attack, members of city’s Muslim community mobilized to help wherever and however they could. Speaking to the evening Standard, these are the stories of just a few.
Toronto – Following the Manchester attack, members of city’s Muslim community mobilized to help wherever and however they could. Speaking to the evening Standard, these are the stories of just a few.
It’s been said that tragedy brings out the best in human nature and the worst. Monday night’s bombing at the Manchester Arena was certainly caused by the worst in human potential. Suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, sought to trike terror in the heart of his own city by launching an attack that resulted in the deaths of 22 people, children among them. 64 others suffered horrific wounds.
And yet, on that night, and in the hours that followed, the light of humanity shone, perhaps most notably from Manchester’s Muslim community. Some, in the case of a vascular surgeon, simply did what they do everyday, save lives. Others reacted instinctively, jumping in the heat of the moment to do what they could. A restaurant mobilized to feed first responders and still another organized a fundraising effort to help victims and their families. All of them did it because Manchester is their home. This was family.
Tawqeer Rashid, vascular surgeon with the Manchester Royal
Infirmary, answered the call Monday night. It was “chaos” and he was needed, but not there. Instead he was sent to the Salford Royal Hospital where they were in desperate need for someone with his specialty. Not knowing the cause of the panic Rashid arrived at the unfamiliar hospital to a horrific scene:
“The injuries we saw were horrific,” Rashid says. “It hit home when I was removing the bolts from people. They were bigger than a 50p piece, not little bolts you use in your home — enormous ones. This is a level of depravity I cannot understand: how a human being would be capable of planning this if they knew what it would do to another human being. These bolts ripped through bodies, into the stomach, the legs, severing arteries, severing nerves, smashing bones and damaging spinal cords.”
Finding himself in unfamiliar hospital territory, Rashid was struck by the sight of everyone rushing around to help. Somehow, everything got done, somehow it all got done right. “We operated through the night and staff brought us hot food and tea. Everyone was pulling together — every shade of religion, or none at all.”
When asked about the terrible twisting of ideology that brings about such carnage, Rashid spoke with passion but remained philosophical:
“These people claim to be my co-religionists,” he said. “But if they want to make it a battle of them and us, the ‘them’ is them and the ‘us’ is all the rest of us. I know there’s the English Defence League and the Katie Hopkinses of this world who will never warm to people like me but this is a time when we stand together as one. It’s been the same thing throughout the ages — if people have a political agenda they will slap religion on it to justify their ends.”
On a normal day, taxi service owner, Sam Arshad, finishes his
work and heads home for dinner and an evening with family. Monday, however, turned out to be no normal night. The owner of Street Cars was headed home when he drove passed the Manchester Arena and the obvious signs of the aftermath of something horrible. When a police officer explained what had happened, Arshad’s instincts took over and he headed straight back to work. There, he mobilized his fleet of drivers to begin shuttling stranded concert goers to their homes, free of charge.
“I had a bad feeling, span my car around and went back to the office. The phones were going crazy, with panicked parents and children who wanted to get out of there… The news had started coming in that there had been fatalities, so we got the gist of what was happening. We said we needed to pull together for the people of Manchester.”
Arshad was quick to not that people of all stripes were chipping in to do what they could that night. “It wasn’t just us. People left their houses to come and help. It was hotels giving free rooms, restaurants giving free food. I saw people carrying crates of water bottles down the street.”
Gilbran Awan’s sisters had tickets to the Ariana Grande show that
night. When their chaperon had to back out of the event, he stepped in to shepherd his sisters in her place. Just as the lights came up after Grande’s final song, the blast occurred. Awan had never heard such a noise so, at first, he wasn’t sure what was happening. From their high vantage point in the arena, however, it soon dawned on him that a mass panic was ensuing.
“Parents were handing their children to strangers who were closer to an exit. It was like a scene from the Titanic. They were trying to save their children in case there was an attacker there still, or perhaps something was going to collapse. That’s how a lot of children became separated from their parents. Some other people were pushing people out of the way, clambering over them. I don’t think it was their fault — an instinct kicks in to save yourself.”
Awan’s instinct told him to remain calm if he didn’t want to be separated from his sisters. Holding tightly to their hands he found a quieter exit where he managed to get them out safely. There are sights and sounds, however, he will never forget. “There were lots of young children there. You could hear a 10-year-old girl saying, ‘I don’t want to die today’.”
Asked for his perspective on the incident and the fact that the perpetrator was a fellow Muslim, Awan had this to say:
“If you look at the perpetrator, he fits a similar description to me — a Muslim male in his twenties. I could have been killed — he wouldn’t have known I was a Muslim and spared me. There may be people out there who are ignorant — they think all Muslims are terrorists — so I think it’s important they know Muslims could have died too.”
Zaffer Khan is the marketing executive for the Burkhara Restaurant, about a half mile away from the Manchester Arena. That night two women appeared at the door, obviously distressed but unable to articulate what was wrong. They offered them water but it wasn’t until the next morning that they realized what had taken place. After a quick staff meeting they devised a plan and proceeded to deliver food and refreshments to the emergency service workers.
“We’re part of this community,” he adds. “We’re Muslim, but whether we were Muslim or non-Muslim, we would have done this. We wanted to give something back.”
Othman Moqbel is the chief executive of the Muslim charity known
as Human Appeal. Their organization is well-known in the area for taking care of the homeless. On Tuesday morning, they mobilized to create a fundraising campaign to hep the victims and their families cope with the tragedy. For Othman, it’s a simple matter of community responsibility. “We — from all different backgrounds, faiths, religions, ethnicities — must stand united against anyone who wants to divide us. Manchester is a peaceful, neighbourly city.”
He added that “You cannot blame a religion for crazy people who do this. We are all praying for the victims and their families.”
To date, the crowdfunding effort has reached GBP, 15,000.