Eusoof Amerat came to Britain from Rangoon in Burma in 1969, and is of Gujarati Indian descent. He has had many official roles, including trustee of the North London Mosque Trust (Masjid-e-Quba) on Cazenove Road in Stoke Newington. He is a member of the Muslim Jewish Forum, and is part of an independent advisory group working with the police and the local authority.
Reverend Niall Weir is originally from Hillsborough in County Down, and has been rector of St Paul’s West Hackney since 2003; he is also the chaplain of Hackney Police.
Brought together by tragedy – the July bombings in London in 2005 – Eusoof and Niall have developed a warm friendship.
They work together on the Hackney Winter Night Shelter, which houses and feeds the homeless in church halls throughout the coldest months.
Niall: I had been chaplain of the Hackney Police for about a week when the July bombings happened. Eusoof and I met at the police station at a gathering of community leaders.
We decided that, rather than pay interfaith lip service, we’d do something practical. Eusoof and his colleague Musa Jabbar marshalled a team of volunteers for the Hackney Winter Night Shelter, and we’ve worked together ever since.
And our friends at the Azizye Mosque across the road provide us with soup to start the meal at the shelter, always delivered bang on time at six o’clock and always delicious.
Hackney is unique in its faith integration. But you can’t leave it to chance – it can easily be disrupted. There will always be people on both sides who seek to divide, but we think that adversity can make us stronger and closer.
Eusoof and I have observed each other’s faith practice, but now we’re more concerned with what unites us rather than our differences.
Eusoof: After September 11 the police reached out to us. It had been our culture not to be too involved with authority. But we built our relationship with the police, and strengthened links with the Jewish community.
We work together with local rabbis on our common interests, and we’re concerned with the rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobic attacks.
At first I was nervous about the Hackney Winter Night Shelter because I felt responsible for our volunteers. But when I saw how it worked I wanted to be involved and work with Niall. It is our practice to focus on giving and helping.
Two simple things – we greet each other with salaam. It means so much more than peace – it is safety, security, goodness. And we have a tradition of giving هدية (pronounced hadya), meaning presents, or gifts. There is no ‘us and them’.
In the sight of the Almighty God we are all the same. We are all brothers, either in faith, or in mankind.