Muslims targeted by fellow fans during public prayers
As half-time approached at Upton Park last weekend, fans from both sides of the crowd made their way indoors for the half time refreshments.
One small group of Muslim supporters gathered in the Sir Trevor Brooking stand to conduct their Mahgrib prayers - the fourth of devout Muslim’s five prayers a day, as the match coincided with the set prayer time.
However, after beginning their prayers at approximately ten minutes before the half time whistle (6pm), the small group became the target of insults and intimidation from a section of home supporters.
They were met first by disbelief, then swearing and finally by increasingly loud chants of “Irons”, the club’s nickname, apparently intended to drown out the prayers.
The Muslim fans turned round anxiously to see they were being filmed and stared at, yet carried on with their ritual.
The supporters, who are understood not to have made any complaint, had been invited to the club as part of a highly commended initiative to forger close links with local community groups.
One member of the small congregation was Ali, who spoke to BBC Radio about his experience at the stadium.
“There were people crowding us and sort of breaking us apart from each other. They were laughing behind our heads really loudly and shouting in our ears,” he explained.
“It was something along the lines of ‘I can’t believe what I am seeing’ and initially it was just one voice, then it was a couple of voices. The group started growing bigger. There were more offensive remarks made, ‘what you doing here?’ ‘Why are there so many of you?’, ‘get out of here’.”
Ali was in attendance as a representative of one of the hundreds of organisations who were offered discounted tickets by the London outfit in an attempt to promote the club in the community.
A large number of Asian Residents live in the surrounding area to the ground and therefore were qualified for the discounted tickets.
Danny Lynch, of leading anti-racism charity Kick it Out, said the situation was ‘unpleasant’ for all involved.
“West Ham united have a very good track record in promoting equality and inclusion. We are in regular dialogue with some of the community groups who were on the receiving end of some of this ‘unpleasant’ behaviour.
“Things on Saturday seemingly didn’t go to plan across the board and I think there is an acknowledgement from the club and certainly from some of the supporters as well. We urge anyone who was on the receiving end to contact us.”
Should faith be practiced in public places or do establishments need to do more to cater for people’s religious beliefs?
“I feel that to have venues which allow individuals to perform their religious duties would be a positive forward step. There are already a lot of good examples where such facilities are in place such as Airports and some sport clubs. Nobody will be asking for a designated prayer room yet if there was just an allocated room where we people of any religion have the option to go, that would be positive.”
“There should definitely be rooms inside stadiums now where Muslims can go and practice their faith. As an avid football fan myself, too often do I find it hard to attend matches because I am a devout Muslim and have to pray five times a day. If there is no place catering for my beliefs at a stadium then I simply cannot go to the match.
“I do think clubs are beginning to learn and there are examples of this. Bayern Munich have facilities fr their Muslim players like [Franck] Ribery and Newcastle, who have brought in a lot of French Muslims to their side also have an area for them.
“I believe that stadiums are big enough for one room to be designated to Muslim’s for prayer. It wouldn’t cost the club anything and would be likely to help boost attendance from people of different faiths and markets.”