Following an English Defence League (EDL) demo in Birmingham last week, one particular photograph caught the attention of social media users: in it, a women could be seen standing up to leader Ian Crossland by smiling down at him.
Saffiyah Khan stepped in to defend Muslim Saira Zafar, who was reportedly being threatened by the far-right group while she participated in a counter demonstration.
Now the two women – formerly strangers – have met for the first time to discuss their experience of the demo, and talked about how we can show solidarity in the face of fascism.
Zafar explains to The Guardian: “I was just planning to stand towards the back with a placard which said ‘No to Islamaphobia. No to war,’ so that the public know this is not acceptable. Unfortunately there was an awful response.”
After shouting “racists” at the far-right protesters, she said that she was physically intimidated by them. An Islamaphobic sign was placed on her head, revealed Zafar, and a flag was waved over her face while the EDL shouted: “Go back to your own country.”
Seeing the intimidation occur, Khan - who had gone to Birmingham’s Centenary Square in solidarity with those opposing the EDL - felt compelled to step in and defend Zafar.
“It’s very important to show solidarity and prove if something [like the confrontation] happens to someone that they’re not on their own,” Zafar comments.
“There’s no excuse not to help – even if its just reporting the police and it comes up in their stats so that measures can be taken to combat this in the future,” adds Khan.
Zafar added: “The stance that we both took shows that Muslim women are not like the narrative [suggests] – we are not oppressed or easily intimidated; we are quite strong.”
Khan’s bravery in stepping up to defend Zafar has been widely praised, with local MP Jess Phillips describing her as "a beacon of hope".
Meanwhile Tottenham’s Labour MP, David Lammy tweeted “So much love for this. Second photo of Saffiyah Khan staring down the EDL with a smile is even better. Solidarity, sister.”
“Sometimes its more important to smile than to shout – I won’t deny I did some of that – but its a more powerful message,” Khan told BBC.
Image: Rex Features