VOLUNTEERS spent the month of Ramadan holding vigils outside Colchester Mosque to show solidarity and challenge religious and racial intolerance.

Friends of Colchester Mosque was created to bring together members of the community to guard the place of worship during prayer times following incidents of Islamophobia in Colchester and across the globe.

The initiative was inspired by the actions of biker gangs in New Zealand, who vowed to stand guard outside mosques across the country following the terrorist incident in Christ Church in which 50 people were killed.

Plans for similar action were discussed among members of Momentum North Essex, with the group’s leaders then meeting with Imam Bashir Goni to develop a plan of action.

Lorcan Whitehead, a founding member of Momentum North Essex, said: “Islamophobic hate crime is a serious and growing issue and we have unfortunately seen recent incidents not just elsewhere in the world but here in Colchester too.

“In light of that, we wanted to do something both to reassure worshippers at Colchester Mosque they would be able to celebrate Ramadan in peace, and to send a message to the racists and Islamophobes that our community will not be divided.

“Friends of Colchester Mosque is a volunteer organisation open to all those who stand in solidarity with Colchester’s Muslim community and in defence of the rights of all people to live and worship freely, without fear of violence or intimidation.”

Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer and reflection for Muslims, passed peacefully and the new group has built close connections with the Muslim community in the town.

Volunteers from churches, trade union groups, Colchester People’s Assembly and more joined the initiative.

Iman Goni said: “In a month when we are taught to count the blessings, we were able to this year include the blessing of having amazing friends and neighbours in our community.”

We agreed to delay reporting on the initiative until after Ramadan.