Today marks six months since the tragic fire at Grenfell Towers in west London, which claimed over 71 lives and left over 200 people homeless and traumatised.
Zia Salik, Community Fundraising and Volunteer Manager at Islamic Relief UK, shared his reflections on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day this morning:
“Back in June I had just returned to London after several weeks travelling and working in East Africa and the Middle East. I had been overseeing Islamic Relief’s aid response to the drought and famine there. I also visited relief camps that were hosting families fleeing the war in Syria.
That June night I was taking for granted the safety and security of life in the UK. It was midnight and I was preparing for the pre-dawn Ramadan prayers when I saw the blaze from the balcony of my flat in Queen’s Park three miles away. I knew straightaway that a tragedy was unfolding. I just didn’t realise how big a tragedy until I stood looking up at Grenfell Tower, still burning hours later.
That day I was in a state of pure shock and horror. I knew very quickly that it was a time for action to support the bewildered, disoriented and traumatised people who escaped from the tower with their lives and nothing else.
I went to Grenfell Tower and was there for over 24 hours, until 3am the following morning, co-ordinating Islamic Relief’s response to the disaster on our doorstep. Throughout the day, I visited mosques, churches and sports centres, and worked with volunteers to distribute water and food to survivors and local people, and in setting up temporary accommodation.
The words “community spirit” were thrown around a lot throughout the day as the world’s media descended upon the disaster that was Grenfell Tower. I didn’t just hear it. I witnessed it, I felt it and I was inspired by it.
As a Muslim, from a young age, we are taught the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which says: “The most beloved people to Allah are those who are most beneficial to the people.”
This was what I saw, when standing in the courtyard of the Al Manaar Mosque nearby that day. Men, women and children from every background and every faith and none came together and brought whatever they felt families would need. People were arriving to help and offer support, travelling from as far south as Southampton and Manchester in the north.
That grim summer day the sense of displacement and confusion I witnessed made me feel like I was back overseas again. But I saw hundreds of people who believe in helping their neighbour, the same as us. Their response was a testament not only to the diverse city we live in but also how, regardless of how many groups try to divide us, when it really matters, like it did on the 14th of June 2017, we will always come together.”
Islamic Relief UK staff and volunteers were at the scene in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy distributing water and clothes for survivors, and continued to work with a coalition of Muslim charities, mosques, churches and community centres to coordinate emergency relief efforts.