Thursday 18 July 2019

Incredible courage of doctor who lost family in arson attack - 'Do not harm anybody and respect everyone'

Dr Taufiq Al Sattar
Dr Taufiq Al Sattar
The house in Leicester where Dr Al Sattar’s family died
Bilal Sattar
Jamal Sattar

Sam Griffin

We are only in this world a short time and should make the most of it, Dr Taufiq Al Sattar tells a room of 50 people sitting cross-legged and peaceful - listening intently to his every word.

The doctor wears a headset and his voice booms throughout the room, rising as he nears the end of his sentence, carried outside the Shuhada centre, a mosque for Islam worshippers at the recently renovated Warrenstown House in Castleknock.

In another room are the women and children who are also hearing the doctor's interpretation of the Koran.

It's almost two years since Dr Al Sattar's whole family was wiped out in an arson attack in Leicester - the awful victims of mistaken identity.

Eight men have been found guilty of the deaths of mother-of-three Shehnila Taufiq (47), daughter Zainab (19), and sons Bilal (17) and Jamal (15). "When we die, that is it. We have left this world," he tells the room. "We are here only temporarily."

It is day 22 of Ramadan when we visited the centre in west Dublin. The month-long celebration of worship and fasting during daylight hours ended this weekend.

Around 150 Muslims have gathered. They will pray together and eat together after the sun goes down. It is a daily ritual, with Dr Taufiq explaining the meaning of that night's prayers, before the fast is temporarily interrupted by the few hours of darkness.

Lamb curry is on the menu tonight, after a starter of mixed fruits. The food is served from trays and we eat sitting on the floor.

The meals are all prepared by volunteers and paid for through contributions and donations. One of the congregation explains it has been "the hardest Ramadan yet" for him, made difficult by a humid Irish summer.

Afterwards, the worshippers chat outside while chai is prepared over an open fire. The women will do likewise at the back of the building. They are all here to pray, but also to socialise. Children play football while others discuss work and life.

Dr Al Sattar takes his seat at a picnic table. He is very aware of the world around him, and the abuses being perpetrated purportedly in the name of Allah. But in his words "that is not Islam".

"People don't understand. People practice in a different way but what is wrong is wrong. If somebody is practicing it doesn't mean he has a true picture of Islam. The true picture is following the prophet and his companions," he explains.

He avoids naming ISIS, but his intentions are very clear and he is unequivocal in his condemnation of the abuses that have been committed in the Middle East, and in Europe more recently. "When you penetrate somebody's country, when you penetrate somebody's house, when you destroy, then what comes at the end of the day?

"People hate each other. So the religion is saying to bring the discipline in your life. You respect your neighbours and you respect everybody, you do not harm anybody."

'If I come and destroy your house or if I come and kill your wife or children, what will be the retaliation from you? You will only start to hate and you will start to take revenge. This is what is happening in the world at present," he explains.

He is less forthcoming when the tragedy that befell his own family is brought up, only to say that he was recently contacted by Leicestershire Police to inform him an awards ceremony was being held for the officers involved.

"I know how hard they worked and they helped me during the court proceedings and before," he says.

The medic is certainly not alone in his denouncement of ISIS. But what about the impression Irish people have of Islam? In the June terror attack at a holiday resort in Tunisia, three Irish citizens were gunned down. Now a major anti-ISIS demonstration is planned for the end of this month.

Have the abuses that are occurring increasingly closer to home impacting on our opinion of Muslims?

"No," says father-of-two Adeel Azmat (30), from Pakistan originally but living in Dublin for the past eight years now and a regular at the west Dublin mosque.

"I think eight years ago, when I was deciding to go to the UK or Ireland, I chose Ireland because of this reason. There is a lot of tolerance, less racism, and the people are very open."

Adeel also condemns ISIS and, as worshippers go back inside for prayer, says the Muslim community in Ireland is united in opposition to the terror group. He supports the demonstration on July 26.

"We really need to educate people," he says. "A lot of people get scared or think 'can I ask this question to a Muslim? Will he take it personally?'

"Misconceptions are only going to get resolved if you are curious and you ask questions."

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News