Remona Aly
Wednesday 24 May 2017 The Guardian

Manchester is wearing its wound with pride: it’s where the light gets in

I will never forget my first gig. It was back in the late 90s. I was 16 and charged with teenage adrenalin at the thought of seeing Bryan Adams live at Wembley. The lights went out, the crowd roared loud, and we sang the Summer of ‘69 at full throttle, our carefree hearts beating in time with the music.

The gig at Manchester Arena will be something many remember for the rest of their lives, for reasons that chill the spine.

Like millions switching on the news this week, I felt a heaviness in my heart as the reports flashed across my screen. Twenty-two lives were taken in an attack that also injured 64, the deadliest to hit the UK since 7/7.

I felt the weight of collective grief, knowing that it was mainly children whose lives have been snatched away. It is the most unbearable loss any human being can endure – the loss of a child. I felt rage too.

And, even yet, there is hope. There is healing. I am struck by the best of humanity come to rescue us all from the worst. The people of Manchester, who have endured attacks in the past, have come together again. I have extended family in Manchester. Watching the scenes there, now all of Manchester now feels like my family.

Restaurants are giving out food. People are opening their homes to give shelter. Taxi drivers are offering free rides. Faith communities are rallying to help. Sikh temples are offering refuge. Mancunian Muslims are setting up crowdfunding campaigns. And, of course, the doctors, nurses, police officers and firefighters work tirelessly to keep us alive and safe.

“There have been non-stop efforts from everyone,” says Ghulam Esposito Haydar. Ghulam is a trustee of the Myriad Foundation, a Muslim-led local outreach organisation that focuses on social welfare. “We have a list of blood donors … And we’ve been coordinating with Muslim-owned restaurants to distribute free food to hospitals, to the emergency services and even to journalists – the city centre is full of press from all over the world, so we’ve combined our homeless food runs to keep the journalists fed too.”

Ghulam notes the spirit of unity in the city, “Someone pushed a card in my hand while I was running around the city centre yesterday. It said the words ‘You are loved’ on it. I was worried about a major backlash against Muslims, but I’ve been seeing the opposite. Even some Manchester City fans told me they’re supporting Manchester United in the Europa final tonight, which is amazing considering the rivalry. People are making more of an effort to reach out and stand together.”

Only 300 yards from the arena where the blast took place stands the Sikh temple, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara. Its president, Parkash Singh, tells me how his temple opened its doors to offer shelter and calm from the chaos outside. “People were coming in shocked and shaken, and we wanted to offer them a space of peace. We called the Sikh taxi drivers we knew and they took people to their homes, hospitals and hotels. We all worked throughout the night.”

Parkash went to last night’s vigil in Albert Square to set up stalls distributing free water for the 10,000 people. “We never thought that an attack could happen in our city. It was a huge shock. But all we can do now is share what we have with others. That’s what our religion teaches.”

Something Parkash said struck me: we will find it so difficult to get back to normal, but we have to carry on no matter what – we have to survive. After the trauma and aftermath of the tragedy in Manchester, I reflect on the 800-year-old words of the Muslim poet and sage Rumi: “I said: ‘What about my eyes?’ He said: ‘Keep them on the road.’ I said: ‘What about my passion?’ He said: ‘Keep it burning.’ I said: ‘What about my heart?’ He said: ‘Tell me what you hold inside it?’ I said: ‘Pain and sorrow.’ He said: ‘Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.’”

After Monday night’s trauma, our hearts are broken, yet we have to hold on to the light. And it’s the light of human compassion. It’s all we have. It’s everything we have.

This article was originally published in The Guardian on 24 May 2017. To read it click here.