Faiths united in face of hall fire

Muslims and Christians will hold a service of forgiveness following the arson attack on the Basildon Islamic Centre.

Sarfraz Sarwar, founder of the centre, will be joined by the Bishop of Bradwell, the Rt Rev Laurie Green on Friday at the Vange Community hall, in Clay Hill Road, along with councillors and representatives from the police and fire service.

Mr Green, who has visited the Triangle community hall, which was all but destroyed in an arson attack at the weekend, said he was "appalled".

He said: "We would all unreservedly deplore acts of violence perpetrated by either of our communities because both Islam and Christianity are committed to acts of peace as God's way forward.

"As Christians we stand in solidarity with our Muslim friends.

"They are an integral part of the community, and we are very sad for them.

"The hall was used by others. So the whole community has also lost a valuable amenity.

"Essex has a very strong sense of community. We do not know the reason for the fire at this stage, but are certain local people will support Essex Police in carrying out a thorough investigation.

"We call for all our communities to grow in deeper respect for one another. I should like to pay tribute to the Essex Fire and Rescue Service for their bravery in tackling the blaze."

Mr Sarwar welcomed the Bishop's supportive words.

He added: "We pray regularly with our Christian friends and we share meals together.

"We enjoy one another's good company. We are all working for people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds to live together in peace and harmony.

"Our group has spoken together and we don't want revenge or blood.

"We want to pray for patience and thanks to those who have helped us.

"We will pray for those people who did this because they need forgiveness and love. This is what Islam is really about."

Mr Sarwar said the Islamic centre's meetings will be held at the Vange hall for the foreseeable future, while the council tries to find alternative premises for the other groups which used the Triangle.

He said: "Every Saturday up until Christmas was booked for a wedding or birthday party.

"We've all lost out - the toddlers' group, the art club, the judo club.

"This hasn't just affected the Islamic centre."

* A 15-year-old girl being questioned in relation to the incident has been released on police bail until October 9.

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