Hundreds of Edinburgh residents gathered outside the Central Mosque on Tuesday, 20 September to show support and solidarity with the city’s Muslim community, in the wake of a firebomb attack on the place of worship two nights earlier.
The rally, originally organised by the campaign group Unite Against Fascism, was attended by representatives from groups across the city, including the Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh (MWAE), Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), and the Edinburgh branch of the Stop the War organisation.
Tasneem Ali, a leading member of MWAE, led the rally, introducing speakers and reading statements to the crowd.
Speaking to The Student, Ali expressed her surprise at the number of people in attendance. “I think it is brilliant that at such short notice so many people came. We have a few hundred since it was announced yesterday evening, which is just incredible”, Ali said.
A statement from Kezia Dugdale, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, was read at Tuesday’s vigil, in which Dugdale expressed her regret at not attending the rally, and also her support of all minority communities throughout Scotland.
“Minority communities are part of the very fabric which makes Edinburgh one of the most culturally vibrant and inclusive places to live and work. We should all feel safe in our homes, in our streets, and in our places of worship.
“I want to pass on my support to everyone who is standing together tonight”, Dugdale said.
Alongside students, families, residents, and activists, both local and national politicians were in attendance, many making speeches to show their support for Edinburgh’s Muslim community in solidarity against hate crime.
Melanie Main, Edinburgh City Councillor for Meadows and Morningside neighbourhoods and member of the Scottish Green Party, is a frequent visitor of the mosque, and works with its members to provide positive education opportunities for Edinburgh’s children.
Main told The Student about the many ways in which the mosque contributes to the Edinburgh community: “Imam Yahya has shown me around many times and I have also come down to see the Muslim women’s ministry, so I know what a huge contribution [the Mosque] makes to the city.
“They have an arrangement with the police, they work very closely with them so that Muslim women who perhaps would not want to go somewhere else or who feel very shy can come here and report things that have happened to them.
“They have got a very good relationship going here and they do great work. Their doors are always open, primary school children come here and they visit the mosque, they have an exhibition downstairs about how it all works, they work very well with the city and they are really valued here”, Main told The Student.
Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh in Westminster, also made an impassioned speech to the crowd. Afterwards, he spoke to The Student about what it meant to see such a strong showing of solidarity from Edinburgh’s residents.
“The scale of the turnout here with such incredibly short notice is remarkable, and I think it shows the strength of feeling in Edinburgh that this sort of thing is just not welcome in our city. It is an impressive show of solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who worship in the Mosque, so I think that’s great”, Sheppard said.
“I think it is important we do not brush these things under the carpet, we have a policy of zero tolerance of this sort of thing so we can make sure it does not spread.
“I think it is very good that the police are treating this as a hate crime. It wouldn’t be so many years ago that they would have needed more persuading to do so, so I think that shows better thinking by Police Scotland and I am pleased about that, but I think the impressive thing is the way people have come out today and said clearly that Edinburgh is not having this. Love will always triumph over hate, and this city has proved how true that is today”, Sheppard said.
Sheppard also had a message for the Muslim residents of Edinburgh. He told The Student that he would like to tell them directly: “We will defend to the end your right to practice what you believe in”, he said.
Image: Mark Longair