Aamir is a doctor and a pillar to his community. He enjoys lower-league football and gets homesick when travelling after a few days as he misses the polite British way of life. He had grown accustomed to being judged for the content of his character (not his Islamic faith or skin colour), when in London. However, a recent trip to a West Ham match against Manchester City on October 19 has made him question that belief.
A video had emerged online of some West Ham fans angrily reacting to a pocket of Muslim supporters observing their post-sunset prayer, (maghrib), inside the stadium.
Social media soon became a hotbed of conspiracy theories about West Ham trying to ‘Islamify’ their support by offering heavily discounted tickets to Muslims. There was genuine anger from many over this ‘two-tier’ ticketing.
However, this is untrue. West Ham sells discounted tickets for British soldiers and periodically offers ‘kids for a quid’ specials. There was no special ‘Muslim’ discount. Such anger might be indicative of an underlying Islamophobia in some supporters.
These tickets are routinely offered to local community groups and are available to all. Not everyone who purchased these £5 tickets was Muslim. It was merely a reflection of that community (for example, some were Eastern European and non-Muslim Asian). There was no conspiracy. West Ham was simply making football more affordable.
For many, it was their first experience of a West Ham game, as many passionately cheered on the team (despite some not understanding all the rules). However, Aamir missed the opening minutes as he visited a nearby mosque to observe afternoon prayers.
Once inside the stadium, it would be impossible to re-visit the mosque and not miss the remainder of the match. That is why Aamir and several others made the decision to pray in the concourse area of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand, ten minutes before halftime. Security was seemingly happy to let them use this space, as it would only take a short amount of time.
Most videos only capture a fragment of what took place, but thanks to Aamir’s bravery, we are able to understand what really happened:
“We had a discussion about the quickest way to pray [separately or in a group]. Some chose to do it individually but many of us decided to pray together.
During the course of the prayer, we noticed a man filming, but we thought nothing of it as we focused our minds to pray.”
The situation quickly became more aggressive as shouts of “f**king p*kis, go home” and “E…, E…, EDL” became impossible to ignore. At this point, some were able to break from prayers and leave. “With our backs to them, many of these loud chants were accompanied by hand-clapping. I think they were doing their best to disrupt our prayer. At this point, some of us did try and leave.”
This intimidation continued as the abusive fans physically broke-up prayer lines and many were pushed into a corner. Sensing the tense atmosphere, a member of staff radioed for support. For Aamir, it felt like they were being goaded into fighting. Yet, nobody reacted to these taunts.
With the arrival of more security staff and some police, the group were able to return to their seats. During halftime, they did their best to warn other Muslims to avoid going downstairs. As a result, some left the stadium to pray in nearby mosques.
That earlier passion became subdued, as it became impossible for many to enjoy the rest of the match, which is why Aamir and many others left before the final whistle.
After such an event, a person can react in a number of ways, but Aamir merely offers empathy and understanding to those involved:
“I share their frustrations [about ticket pricing]. I did not ask for tickets at that reduced rate, it simply was too good to turn down. I am sorry that I only paid £5 and many did not.
I would also love to sit down with those responsible, have a civil chat, and explain that I was there to support West Ham and did not expect any favours because I am Muslim. Dialogue is important. I hope it brings understanding.”
The incident has made Aamir question his perception of racism and Islamophobia, as he had not realised the level of hate some hold in their hearts. Nor will attend any future West Ham matches.