Our Director, Sajda Mughal, recently featured in The Evening Standard Newspaper speaking about her experience as a 7th July 2005 London bombings survivor as well as her work with JAN Trust and the need to empower mothers to safeguard their children and society.
The full article can be read here and below: CLICK HERE
On July 7, 2005, Sajda Mughal was on her way to work. Every morning she took the Piccadilly line westbound towards Holborn, where she changed to the Central line to head to her office at Bank. But that day, Jermaine Lindsay was on her train. Between King’s Cross and Russell Square he detonated a bomb. Twenty-six other passengers were killed.
Mughal, who was 22 at the time, is the only known Muslim survivor of 7/7. After the terrorist attack she gave up a career in recruitment to fight extremism. “I believed I was going to die down there,” Mughal, now 31, says. “So when I came out alive, I felt I had been given a second chance. Finding out it was caused by a Muslim changed everything for me.”
Instead of making her question her faith, though, 7/7 drew her further into it. “We have a strong belief in Islam that God writes things for you: when someone is born, their death has also been written. It wasn’t written for me to go that day. But the experience brought me to find out more about my faith.”
It also made her desperate to stop young Muslims being radicalised. It’s a subject that was again in the spotlight last week, when it emerged that a science teacher in Bolton had been charged with preparing to help others commit acts of terrorism in Syria.
“This ideology that you need to carry out a jihad to help your brothers and sisters abroad needs to change. It saddens and frustrates me that there is this small minority who influence individuals to carry out attacks when Islam is a peaceful religion.”
At Mughal’s office opposite Alexandra Palace station her nine-month-old daughter is sleeping in the next room. This is the headquarters of the JAN Trust, a women’s charity that local MP Lynne Featherstone has dubbed “a mini-United Nations” as it caters mostly for women from ethnic minorities, including refugees and asylum-seekers. Many of these women don’t speak English and lack skills — the charity’s aim is to help them integrate into society, teaching English, numeracy and how to write a CV.
Mughal, who also has a four-year-old daughter, is a director at JAN and the brains behind its “web guardians” project, which aims to stop young people being radicalised. “Online there’s this whole world of videos and games that incite hate. And there are chat rooms that contain people who groom kids on extremist paths.” Having launched in Haringey, the project will soon be rolled out to other boroughs.
Mughal, who talks about 7/7 in schools, sees a desperate need for this project. “I’ve had Muslim — and non-Muslim — kids come up to me afterwards and say, ‘Miss! We can sympathise [with the bombers]’,” she says. “The Muslim youth today have a number of grievances. Foreign policy: Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel, now Syria. Then there are the unmanned drone attacks, Guantánamo and cases of soldiers abusing civilians. This project says we understand there are these grievances and that they are sympathising with this ideology but that this mindset needs to change.”
So how do you persuade these children that violence is not the answer? “Dialogue,” Mughal responds. “You put them in the position of, ‘Well, I was in 7/7. It could have been your mother, your sister, your cousin’. You show them that they can channel these grievances in a democratic manner, as opposed to destructively. That means through social media, lobbying or petitioning — not violence.”
Unless these conversations are had, Mughal believes we risk the young turning to the internet to understand their Islamic identity. She cites Roshonara Choudhry, the Newham-born student who stabbed Stephen Timms MP in 2010 and stated she had spent hours watching videos from Anwar al-Awlaki, the “spiritual leader” of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Sometimes, Mughal says, the children ask: “But what about the jihad?”
“You’ve got to debunk that. Jihad isn’t about fighting, it’s about making a sacrifice. I might say: ‘I’m not going to drink tea all day, that’s my jihad’. There’s a huge misconception about the term.”
But Mughal thinks she knows the ultimate tool to fight extremism: mothers. The JAN Trust recently found that three-quarters of mothers had seen or heard their children accessing Islamic lectures but they did not know the content. And 92 per cent did not know what online radicalisation was, while a similar number didn’t know how to get online at all. “We want to help these women become role models. So we’re teaching them IT skills and about the dangers of the internet but also equipping them to discuss extremism with their children offline. That way the mother can safeguard her child and help prevent further attacks.”
Through her work, Mughal also challenges a problem running parallel to extremism: Islamophobia. She says the recent debate about veils brought out underlying prejudices. “I don’t think Islamophohia is decreasing. The Muslim women we help tell us about the problems they face day to day — just travelling on the Tube or bus or their children getting bullied in school or their husbands facing discrimination at work.”
Before 7/7, Mughal was a typical north London twentysomething. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, she came here aged one and grew up in Haringey. “I was a Muslim but I didn’t have much involvement with the community,” she admits. “I was very career-focused.”
On the day of the bombings, Mughal was running late for that job. “The whole journey, I was thinking ‘Hurry up, hurry up!’,” she recalls. “The train left King’s Cross and then we went into the tunnel and there was a massive bang.”
It was rush hour and the Tube was packed. “People who were standing up fell to the ground; even those of us sitting down fell forward.”
Mughal says her mind went blank. “I was frozen. All the lights had gone out, so all we had were the faint emergency lights. There was no announcement. No one was telling us what had happened.”
Black smoke started to fill the carriage. “People were screaming, panicking, some were crying. I could hear people banging on the windows. We didn’t know what was going on outside the train. Were the tracks live? So I just stood there.”
Mughal thought the train had hit something or had been derailed. “Then I thought, ‘The next Tube leaving King’s Cross is just going to hit us — we’ll have a massive explosion and we’ll all burn to death’. In times of need, people of faith become more religious and that’s what I started to do. I said, ‘Please God, don’t let this be it. Don’t let July 7, 2005, be it’.”
It was only when she heard police coming towards their carriage that she knew she was going to survive. She and the other passengers were then evacuated through King’s Cross. “At that point I just wanted to be alone,” she recalls. “There was a McDonald’s opposite and I went across to calm my nerves and sit alone.”
She couldn’t reach any of her family on her mobile so she started walking back home. “It took hours. On the way I went into a newsagent and I heard another customer say, ‘They’re saying it’s a bomb’. I thought, ‘No, it can’t be’. I couldn’t contemplate it being a bomb.
“It was a lot for me to deal with mentally: finding out that some people had died and others had lost their limbs, then finding out it was a bomb, and then that it was carried out by four men who happened to be Muslim and had that warped ideology.”
It took her “a long while” to get back on the Tube. Initially, she couldn’t travel alone. “I needed counselling, time and support. Even now when I have meetings in town and I have to go through King’s Cross I start remembering. When July 7 comes around every year, I don’t want to travel on the Tube.” She has flashbacks, too.
Still, Mughal believes the experience has given her purpose. “When I look back, I think, ‘If I hadn’t been running late, I wouldn’t have gone through that’. But then I wouldn’t be doing what I am now.”