By Salma Hamid (Co-Chair for Nisa-Nashim, Birmingham)
"Die Jewish," the chilling, hateful words scrawled across a stone wall along a busy, residential road in Billesley, Birmingham. My friend Karen had seen it during her evening stroll after work last week and shared the image on our West Midlands Nisa-Nashim Whatsapp group, a safe space for proactive Muslim and Jewish women to connect as friends. I stared at the image for a few minutes. I had never seen anything so blatant, so grotesque, so close to my home!
Karen had reported it already to the local police and the CST -Community Security Trust, the charity that protects British Jews from antisemitism and related threats. Within minutes we were all contacting our MPs, local councillors and groups engaged in community cohesion initiatives. We could not stand by and allow the awful perpetrator to succeed in sharing their vile, anti-Semitic message. Swift, supportive actions were necessary.
‘Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest of faith.’
Immediately the words of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, came to mind – ‘Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest of faith.’ My faith was very clear on the matter. I suggested that we all meet at the wall the next day and clean it off together. We arranged a suitable time after Friday prayers so Muslim women in the group could join us and we had also planned to meet the local MP, the police and a Rabbi.
I didn’t sleep well that night. The image reappeared in my mind over and over again. Birmingham is my home. I was born and raised here. My children had attended a school 5 minutes from the hostile location. I had never experienced this myself before. I wondered if Karen was also this restless. Online news reports of rising hate crimes during the pandemic headline included: ‘Three-fold increase in hate crimes since coronavirus pandemic’; ‘Hate crimes against Chinese people have spiked in the West Midlands this year, according to new police figures’ and ‘Since the start of the pandemic there has been increased levels of hate crimes directed towards the east and southeast Asian community in Britain’. Evidently, the Jewish community is also the target of this rising hate speech. All totally appalling and completely unacceptable! I ask, seriously, what is wrong with these people?
Karen arrived and she shared her many thoughts about the situation. She was clearly shocked. Her grandparents had survived the horrific Holocaust years so to see this ugly message here was very emotional and unexpected.
The following afternoon, armed with homemade posters, bunting and a reenergised sense of solidarity, I set off to meet Karen and our Nisa-Nashim allies! Standing before the wall and seeing the words for myself, I felt an overwhelming sense of despair towards a person I had never met. Karen arrived and she shared her many thoughts about the situation. She was clearly shocked. Her grandparents had survived the horrific Holocaust years so to see this ugly message here was very emotional and unexpected. I noticed she was wearing large 'Jewess' earrings. Loud, proud and definitely the right choice for this occasion!
We were soon joined by some of our Nisa-Nashim friends, the local MP, a police officer (he had brought along special paint removal tools) and the Rabbi. We wrapped the bunting (made up of positive pointers) around the tree growing directly opposite the offensive space as a reminder to all passers-by that Nisa-Nashim will not allow hate to dictate the space we live in. Our immediate, collaborative actions led to the swift removal of the aggressive comment. It was replaced by a beautifully chalked rainbow and a clear message of hope and unity - ‘NISA-NASHIM. STANDING TOGETHER AGAINST HATE’.
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