Abdul Munim sat amid the charred walls and smoky stench of his mosque yesterday and reflected on levels of religious and racial intolerance that are even worse than when he made Britain his home, 40 years ago.
"We've had some hard times and thought they were all in the past," he said. "But now, because of what is happening in the world, it is far less safe. We say to anyone who doubts us, 'The London bombings were wrong'."
The Shajala mosque, in Birkenhead, Wirral, was attacked by two white men who threw petrol through the letterbox and ignited it. The assistant imam, Boshir Ullah, was trapped in his upstairs bedroom, as fire raged on the landing outside. Fire crews pulled him to safety from an upstairs window and extinguished the blaze.
Mr Munim's sense of despair is shared by senior members of Muslim communities across Britain which have suffered an increasing number of attacks since the bombings in London last Thursday. The attacks prompted the country's most senior Muslim leader to write to imams across Britain warning them to guard against a wave of Islamophobia. Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, said racists had firebombed mosques and attacked other Islamic institutions across Britain. Arson and criminal damage have been reported in Tower Hamlets and Merton, both in London, Telford, Leeds, Bristol and Bradford.
Last night, Brian Paddick, the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: "We will not tolerate a small minority of people who are using these tragic events to stir up hatred. We need people from every community to report incidents to the police of any faith-hate crime."
In Birkenhead, Mr Munim said the town's predominantly Bangladeshi Muslim community deserved better. "We are hardworking British citizens and everyone knows us," he said. "My son, Nazmul, went to Leeds University, has a masters degree in computer science and is applying those skills. Yet things are getting worse for us. When we came to Merseyside 40 years ago people were more friendly."
The grilles on the windows outside the mosque indicated that it had been the target of violence before. They were installed after the 11 September attacks, when firebombs were pushed through the letterbox.
The Shajala mosque started to feel the backlash from the London bombings even as religious leaders were making an ecumenical plea for religious tolerance the day after the bombings. Worshippers approaching the mosque from their homes on a estate encountered individuals shouting "Paki, Paki". Then, at 12.35am on Saturday, Mr Ullah heard what seemed to be someone kicking the front door, though judging from the damage, a pickaxe may have been used. He opened his door and saw the flames.
"I was terrified," he said. "There was nowhere to escape and the fire was approaching." Police are hunting for two men, who may have bought the petrol used at a nearby service station.
In east London, the community of Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslims fears for its safety after vandals damaged the Mazahirul Uloom mosque and school on Mile End Road. The attackers, who struck early on Saturday, used crowbars and a hammer to shatter 19 windows.
Faruk Ahmed, the mosque's general secretary, said: "We did not expect this to happen in our mosque, at the heart of a peace-loving Muslim community.This is a place of worship and all humans should respect that, whether it is a church, a synagogue, a temple or a mosque."
In Nottingham, a 48-year-old man from Pakistan died on Sunday after what police are treating as a racially aggravated attack. Six people were arrested in connection with the attack.
The British National Party was condemned last night for a by-election leaflet, exploiting an aerial photograph of the No 30 bus, after the explosion in Tavistock Square which killed 13 people. "Maybe now it's time to start listening to the BNP" is the headline on the leaflet, intended for the by-election in Barking, east London, on Thursday.
Five days of reprisals
THURSDAY 7 JULY
Hayes, west London: Asian woman reports attempted arson attack.
Merton, south London: Five white men arrested after throwing bottles at Sikh temple windows.
Southall, west London: Asian family attacked at their home.
FRIDAY 8 JULY
Bristol: Bottles thrown at the Jamia mosque.
Leeds: Arson attack on the Jamiat Tablighul Islam Mosque in Armley. Lighted cloth put through the window.
SATURDAY 9 JULY
Mile End, London: 19 windows broken at Mazahirul Uloom mosque.
Tan Bank, Wellington, Shropshire: Firebomb attack on a mosque. West Mercia police step up patrols around places of worship.
SUNDAY 10 JULY
Birkenhead: Shajala Mosque is set ablaze with petrol bombs, trapping a cleric inside.
MONDAY 11 JULY
Bradford: Pakistani Consulate in Laisterdyke area of the city attacked by arsonists.