Religion in the riots

The death and destruction caused by rioters in the U.K. has been difficult to watch. I've followed the stories and wondered about how well the religion angles have been covered. One tragic story sticks out for how well a victim's family religion was highlighted. That story is about the death of Haroon Jahan, one of three Muslim men to die after being hit by a car during riots in Birmingham. Reuters reported how his father Tariq Jahan rushed to aid the men, only to find out that one of the victims was his own son:

"So I started CPR on my own son. My face was covered in blood, my hands were covered in blood."

Police launched a murder inquiry after all three Muslim men died. A 32-year-old man has since been arrested.

The men were part of a group of British Asians attempting to protect their area from looters after attending Ramadan prayers at a mosque, a friend of the men told BBC radio.

They acted after seeing gangs break into a petrol station and social club, and neighbors being beaten up, Jahan said.

I wondered whether that would be the end of the religion coverage. But in the days that passed, we saw more. The next day there was an op-ed hailing Tariq Jahan as a "voice of reason" in the chaos. This Telegraph story explains how Jahan helped quell a race riot from breaking out in the aftermath of his son's death. A few days later the Guardian reported on rumours that hundreds of Muslim and Sikh youths were plotting revenge against black rioters in Birmingham.

Winson Green, an area north-west of the city centre, has been home to a substantial Pakistani community since the 1960s. The area is racially mixed with an established minority of Jamaicans and recent immigrants from Somalia and eastern Europe.

At the half-built Dudley Road mosque, a few yards from where the young men died, more than 600 members of the local community, including Somalis and African-Caribbeans, gathered to say prayers.

Some worshippers had come from nearby Handsworth, scene of riots in the 1980s. An official from a local Somali mosque was invited to say a few words about the three young men.

The room fell quiet as Jahan, 46, the Slough-born son of immigrants from Indian Kashmir and Pakistan, and his eldest son Tahrir entered the main prayer hall. They were ushered to the front. Speaking in Urdu, the imam called for peace among the local community and called for worshippers to react to the alleged murders with dignity.

Afterwards, Jahan said he and his family – including his wife Tahira and his 23-year-old daughter Sophia – were still trying to accept his son's death. "The grief does not leave. I keep telling myself that he died protecting the community. But I don't have the words to say how I feel," he said.

And the BBC interviewed Tariq Jahan and included quotes about how his religion is helping him cope with the tragedy:

Although he is grieving, Mr Jahan manages to present a brave front and only falters once during the interview.

He describes his last moments with Haroon after finding him lying on the road, saying: "I lay next to him and put my arm under him and whispered in his ear, 'son, even if the angel of death comes down to ask for you now, I'll stand before him'."

Mr Jahan's faith is helping him. He is a Muslim and says that he believes in divine fate and destiny. He says he also gains strength from his two other children, son Tahir and daughter Sophie, both in their early 20s.

It's not that we get a tremendous amount of detail here, but it's nice to see the way British media is not hiding or ignoring the role that religion plays in the lives of the Jahans.

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