The crowd stretched as far as the eye could see. By the very strength of their numbers they provided a dramatic tribute to three men who died defending their community from rioters.
Around 20,000 turned out in Birmingham yesterday for the open-air funeral of 21-year-old Haroon Jahan and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31.
The trio suffered fatal injuries last week when they were hit by a car as they protected shops from looters in the early hours of August 10. Four have so far been charged with murder over the incident.
Yesterday’s hour-long service in Summerfield Park began with a highly charged speech by Sheikh Ali Mohammed Yaqoubi, an Islamic preacher from Syria.
Dressed in a black robe he stood on a small stage and said: ‘We have come here to honour the three men but we cannot give them a better honour than they have got already – the honour of martyrdom.
‘As Muslims we have proven to be more loyal to this country than even the natives. These three men sacrificed their blood and it should be a historical day. A day of national celebration for everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
‘I call upon the authorities to make this day a day not of mourning and sadness but a national day of bravery.’
Sheikh Yaqoubi praised Haroon Jahan’s father Tariq Jahan for his ‘brave words’ and for ‘stopping people from taking revenge’.
He stressed that no acts of retribution should be carried out in the names of the dead men, deeming such actions as ‘unethical and un-Islamic’.
The bodies were carried in three hearses. Inside Abdul Musavir’s, a garland of white flowers spelled out ‘shaheed’, meaning martyr.
His father sobbed uncontrollably at times and had to be supported by family as the coffins were taken out and laid on a table in a covered tent behind the stage.
A cousin of the dead brothers, who gave his name as Saqib, addressed the crowd. He said: ‘Our boys were precious gemstones of people. Loving, bubbly and family men.
‘Many of the youths are feeling deeply angered and I say we should channel that anger towards those at the top who didn’t do enough to protect our communities.’
Tariq Jahan also briefly addressed the crowd to thank them for their support. ‘This is for the three shaheeds. Please remember them,’ he said.
Female mourners in the crowd of mainly Asian and young black men were separated from the men by small metal barriers. An area had been cordoned off for immediate family and friends.
Local councillor Ayoub Khan read a statement from the families. He said: ‘The families would ask that everyone pray for them and their loved ones during this auspicious month of Ramadan. It is the support of all the community that has given them courage.
‘Birmingham witnessed upsetting scenes of mindless looting culminating in the tragic deaths of these three young men.
‘These three courageous souls were protecting the properties and sanctity of fellow community members be they black or white Muslim or non-Muslim … we salute their sacrifice.’
Following the public service, a private burial ceremony for relatives was held at Handsworth Cemetery.
Earlier, police lined the road leading to the Handsworth Muslim Centre, where the bodies of the three men lay overnight after being released by the coroner on Wednesday. Mourners visited to pay their final respects and women dressed in white wailed and sobbed openly as they left.
A police helicopter hovered overhead as large groups of young Pakistani men stood defiantly outside the centre.
One, in his 20s, who gave his name as Kash, said there had been rumours overnight that trouble could flare up because tensions were still running high.
He said: ‘There is still a lot of anger particular among the younger crowd and we have been warned to stay on guard.
Women dressed in white wailed and sobbed openly as they left the centre while the men wearing Muslim caps and traditional Pakistani clothing stood quietly outside in groups.
The funeral cortege was escorted by West Midlands Police as it made its way to Summerfield Park for the last rights, known as Janazah.
It was followed by a private burial ceremony for close relatives only at Handsworth Cemetery, where the three men were buried alongside each other.
A family friend, Sarjan Mahmood, 46, from Perry Barr, Birmingham, said: ‘We are here to give our support to the families of these three men who died protecting all of the local community.
‘We believe they should be honoured by everyone and their memories should help everybody unite.
‘For us Muslims these three guys died as martyrs and we want to ensure they didn’t die in vain. They should be an inspiration to all of us.’