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A very English defence


Last month the far-right group the English Defence League gave notice of a protest it intended to stage at the York mosque. Tensions were running high following the murder in Woolwich of Drummer Lee Rigby. But the plan hatched by worshippers at the mosque surprised their flag-carrying guests (of whom there were just half a dozen).

The members of the EDL, having nailed a St George's Cross to the wooden fence outside the building, were invited inside for a cup of Yorkshire tea and a custard cream.

Mohammed el-Gomati, a lecturer at the University of York, said: 'I didn't dare tell them that St George is actually Palestinian! I think that would have started another row.

'There is the possibility of having dialogue. Even the EDL who were having a shouting match started talking and we found out that we share and are prepared to agree that violent extremism is wrong.

'We have to start there. Who knows, perhaps the EDL will invite us to an event and the Muslim community will be generous in accepting that invitation?'

Ismail Miah, the president of the mosque, added: 'Under the banner of Islam there are very different politics: democratic politics, the far right, left, central, all over. You can't target a whole community for what one or two people have done.'

Father Tim Jones, who also went to the Bull Lane mosque, situated in his parish, said: 'I've always known they were intelligent and compassionate people and I think this has demonstrated the extent to which they are people of courage - certainly physical courage and also a high degree of moral courage. I think the world can learn from what happened outside that ramshackle little mosque on Sunday.'

Hull Road ward councillor Neil Barnes said it had been a 'proud moment for York.' He added: '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.'

After that the two groups had a game of football. 'We didn't keep score - we were just having fun' said the Imam Abid Salik. He likened it to the moment German and British soldiers threw down their arms and crossed no man's land to play football during World War I.