The daughter of a Muslim man killed in a north London terror attack has given a moving and tearful tribute to him on the fifth anniversary of his death.
Speaking at Finsbury Park Mosque, close to where the attack happened, Ruzina Akhtar remembered her father, Makram Ali, as “one of the most gentle human beings you could have met”.
Mr Ali, 51, died when Darren Osborne drove a hired van into worshippers outside the Muslim Welfare House shortly after evening Ramadan prayers on June 19 2017.
Ms Akhtar was joined by council and police officials including Matt Jukes, assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, in remembering his life on Sunday.
Fighting back tears, Ms Akhtar told them: “He has been tragically taken from us five years ago.
“Our dad was first and foremost one of the most gentle human beings you could have met, who always had a smile on his face and was cracking jokes at the most random of times to make others laugh.
“He was a compassionate husband, a loving father and doting grandfather who was adored by everyone.
“His death has left a black hole but, remembering his smile and laughter, we surround that hole with more love for one another, as he would have wanted.”
Ms Akhtar said that “as a Muslim woman” she wanted everyone “to voice any Islamophobic behaviour as it still exists so it is tackled right away”.
Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, told listeners that Islamophobia in the UK is “much worse now than it was five years ago” and Muslims still do not feel safe.
Mr Kozbar said: “The problem we are facing is that since this attack took place not much has changed in tackling Islamophobia.
“I remember the prime minister at the time, Theresa May, sitting in this room and promising that steps and actions will be taken seriously to tackle this disease which causes Islamophobia.
“Even still we don’t have a definition of Islamophobia.
“In fact, it is much worse now than it was five years ago, with the institutionalisation of Islamophobia by this Government and some sections of the media.
“We as Muslims are still feeling the effects of this attack and we won’t feel safe until Islamophobia is taken seriously by the authorities and the police.”
Toufik Kacimi, chief executive of the Muslim Welfare House, where the terror attack took place, called for the “root cause” of Islamophobia to be tackled.
Paying tribute to Mr Ali, he said: “For over 20 years, he was praying always in the same place and many of us just can’t forget that horrible night.
“The incident that claimed his life also left many horrible memories that we just can’t forget.”
He added: “This incident was trying to divide us but it actually brought us together as you can see five years on we’re still coming together today.
“British Muslims still think that Islam is not compatible with Europe.
“We have to tell them, educate them, that Islam is part of the fabric of this society – it is not a foreign religion that is going to go somewhere else.”
In a statement on Saturday, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “On the fifth anniversary of the awful Finsbury Park terror attack, we remember Makram Ali, who tragically lost his life, and all the innocent Londoners who were injured after being deliberately targeted while leaving their mosque following Ramadan prayers.
“Our thoughts are with Makram’s family and everyone who was impacted by this dreadful attack.
“London stands united against terrorism. We will always celebrate and cherish the incredible diversity of our city.
“That senseless attack five years ago was an assault on our shared values of openness, freedom and respect.
“But the solidarity shown by all communities in our city in the wake of the attack showed that we will never let terrorists win by dividing us.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson added on Twitter: “Five years on from this cowardly act of terrorism my thoughts are with the family of Makram Ali and those affected by the Finsbury Park Mosque attack.
“Freedom of worship and tolerance for different faiths is fundamental to our values.
“Terrorists will never change our way of life.”
Osborne, from Cardiff, was found guilty of terrorism-related murder and jailed for life in February 2018.