Our father, Mohamed Saleem, was brutally murdered just over a year ago whilst walking home from evening prayers. He was 82 years old. Why anyone would want to murder a defenceless old man is the question we often ask ourselves about that fateful night? Dad was a weak man, he had arthritis in his legs but would insist on walking to the mosque several times a day because he said it kept him fit. He was a stickler for routine, ate his meals on time, slept regularly and enjoyed his daily walkabouts in the community. Dad was a practising Muslim and he loved the peace and serenity he received from his faith, it encompassed how he lived his life. Dad was keen to advocate education, marriage and family life within Islamic values. He did not respect crime, drugs, or violence and he firmly believed his faith provided a bedrock for the future generations to thrive.
He would often say there was no point in being a Muslim if one did not educate themselves through school college and university, because without good prospects of employment and education a person cannot fully support their family. Tragically, he was singled out and murdered on the very road he had lived on for over 30 years, having worked so hard to provide for his family. The motive for his death was allegedly because he was brown and dressed like a Muslim. He was followed from the mosque on the 29th April 2013 (after late evening prayers finished at 10.10pm), by a cowardly right wing neo-Nazi terrorist who had only been in the country for less than a week. He was then stabbed three times from behind. Surprisingly the perpetrator was awarded a work placement in Small Heath – an area densely populated by Muslims for many years. A known racist neo-Nazis (in Ukraine) he was allowed enter this country unchecked to complete a campaign of terror and murder.
What did this person know about our father? Did he know he had 7 children and 23 grandchildren upon whom he doted. Did he consider the heartbreak that this has caused our family? Did he know that our father came to this country over 60 years ago to build a life for his family, worked hard and paid his taxes to put his children through university. Our father admired the educational system the UK offered and expected us to study and work in suitable employment. He found forced marriages reprehensible and hated the cultural misconception that children had to marry whom the parents chose using Islam as a justification. Dad advised many parents of such wrongdoings and when divorce became imminent within couples, he worked with families to ensure fairness was achieved for both sides.
A Great Role Model – Mohammed Saleem
A great role model for the youth of today in his old age, many looked up to him and told us of their confidential chats with dad about their wayward lives and how he helped them to see sense and seek refuge within their faith. The Muslim youth of Birmingham and other cities are disorientated, some are professionals, some are students and some are even, sadly, on the road to crime, receiving little support from their despairing families but all of them are our neighbours. And yet there are those who prey on the misfortune of many of these people.
Unfortunately, some sections of Muslim communities have been tarnished in a very negative way because of a few bad eggs, and the rotten smell of Islamaphobia and hatred has developed into a full-on war by the British media and its campaign of anti-Muslim articles.
We are here tonight to address the pressing issue of Islamaphobia and its increase over the last few years, much of which has been perpetrated by the sensationalised media headlines and the general bias against Muslims in news reports and treatment within the legal system. Yesterday’s front page of the Sun reported on Pizza Express’ secret Halal food and this is a case in point. By using journalists with Muslim names, the papers incite the spreading of an innate fear of Muslims and their way of life, without looking like they are spreading prejudice since another Muslim as written up the piece. Malcom X said:
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” This was said some 50 years ago and it is, ever more pertinent today.
Now let me move onto the injustices within the legal system. It seems time has gone back to the 1980s and to the days of the National Front, frightening times where children were not let out because of the marches and football riots were just another part of a Saturday afternoon. I remember growing up in a skinhead era, where my mother would not let us out when Birmingham City matches were on. We remember bricks thrown into passing cars and Asians were spat on by thugs who had tattoos and body piercings. Many of these memories become reality when we see the ugly face of the English Defence League. I for one truly believe that if things do not change, the future does not look bright. So take for example, the recent ripping up of the Holy Qu’ran at a football match. My children found it upsetting to read about the Quran being ripped up and desecrated at a football stadium down the road from where my father died. I find it upsetting when insignificant prison terms and fines are being handed out by sympathetic judges. Is this justice I ask?
We have no real representation for Muslims in this country , apart from self appointed leaders who do not reflect the reality of things on the ground. We do not need more blame put on us for the wrongdoings of those in power – we need a true representation of people that will challenge these political, judicial, and societal systems.
From the experiences my family had in the past year, it seems not enough has changed since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. The way we were treated with suspicion by the police and the surveillance we had placed on us by the Family Liaison Officers through to the Coroner’s failings in their judicial process, left us with a bitter taste and much more needs to be done to address some of these failings. We found the police complaints process disorganised and confusing since the IPCC placed local resolution as the only port of call so our complaints were passed on from the IPCC and time limits on responses were not met. In fact after a year we are still awaiting a response from concerns that we lodged. We have many letters to support this, yet no complaint was ever settled and we lodged 4 separate complaints with regards to the handling of the case, the police role in the releasing of the body and the Islamaphobic online abuse regarding our father’s murder and none of these were dealt with satisfactorily.
Counter- Terrorism Unit
However, on a positive note the Counter Terrorism Unit were a breath of fresh air when they took the case over once Pavlo Lapshyn was arrested. We found the officers to be extremely professional, polite and very reassuring and I felt that I could breathe again when they came round to see us. I could trust them and my fear slowly dissolved whilst the case was being handled by the CPS. Nonetheless we have many questions that remain unanswered and we will never know what really happened that night and whether Pavlo was really a lone wolf or part of an organised gang. We accept our father’s death and hope that other families receive better treatment than we did initially, innocent until proven guilty they say, but this is not how the police treat families in some cases.
Dad was an amazing man, highly respected by his family and missed by his many grandchildren. He was a great role model in his values and ideals. His death was a shock to us all and a result of what he often feared would happen; knife crime and anti-Muslim hate were the sole reason for his murder.
Islamaphobia has to stop and no person should be victimised or stereotyped because of their faith. Muslims should be embraced and respected like every other person in our inclusive society, we are the same and no different. The media has to stop this hate fuelled reporting and our judiciary needs to review its processes around dealing with cases of hate crimes and particularly when there is sustained targeting of people because of a part of their identity. Organisations like TELL MAMA cannot undertake their roles effectively, if the police, legal system and government departments are unable to make the changes required.
In honour of my father tonight, I hope we can make a difference and that lessons learnt are taken forward and acted upon.