Peter and Rehana

10 01 18


  • Name: Peter Adams and Rehana Faisal
  • Mission: To combat the far right’s divisive messages, including anti-Muslim rhetoric, and tackle community issues together.
  • Size: Muslim and Christian community
  • Location: Luton, UK
  • Key personnel: Church leader – Peter Adams; Muslim volunteer – Rehana Faisal


Peter Adams and Rehana Faisal work on bringing their Christian and Muslim communities together to focus on local issues to counter the far-right’s messages in Luton.

They created Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation to counter fears over grooming gangs and work on creating one-to-one friendships between the two communities in their efforts to combat anti-Muslim hatred.


“There was a strong cross-community feeling that we’d had enough. We’d had a number of marches from the far-right English Defence League. Somehow, Luton had become a place every far-right group wanted to come to and say they’d ‘done it’,” says Rehana Faisal, a local Muslim community activist in Luton, UK.

The town of Luton has been called the worst place in Britain, a “hotbed of terrorism” and has gained a reputation for extremism.

It was one of the bases for hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s banned extremist group, Al-Muhajiroun. The suicide bombers who killed 52 people on the London underground in 2005 travelled through Luton station, and two terrorists were caught planning to bomb the town’s Territorial Army base. It was also the home for Taimour al-Abdaly who blew himself up in central Stockholm in 2010.

The anti-Muslim street movement the English Defence League (EDL) was born in Luton and the far-right Britain First also regularly marched there, leading to an eventual High Court ban against its leaders coming to the town.

“The regular voices of hatred on the streets were poisoning the atmosphere, it was getting to the identity of a whole generation of young Muslims growing up in this town,” says Peter Adams, a Christian community mediator and peacemaker based at the Anglican St Mary’s Church. “It also affected people’s perception of the town and was really damaging for businesses that had to shut for half a day during weekends.”

Peter had invited Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, the far-right leaders of Britain First, to the church for a meeting with Christian faith leaders. The far-right group prides itself on its strong Christian roots and Peter hoped to make them understand their march wasn’t necessary.

“They came and talked to us very congenially, but then they abused our hospitality by going straight over to Bury Park [an area where many Muslim families live] and protesting outside a mosque there,” says Peter.

He adds that until the faith communities started getting serious, they were “playing catch up” to the far-right groups.


“Ever since Stephen Lennon [aka Tommy Robinson, leader of the EDL] lived here in Luton, he was rabble rousing around issues we have in the community – so we needed to do more about these issues,” says Peter.

Peter’s aim was to address the concerns of people in Luton, such as the fear of Muslim grooming gangs and terrorism so that far-right groups could not weaponise these issues within the local community.

As a Muslim activist, Rehana Faisal had similar ideas and they met at a community event.

“Often in interfaith, it’s about finding things we agree upon – but it’s okay to disagree. As a Christian or Muslim we have irreconcilable differences but that should not affect how we live together,” says Rehana.

Rehana and Peter say they focused their approach on building relationships around issues that affected the whole community rather than carrying out interfaith lunches.

The sexual exploitation of young girls is one of the main issues Peter and Rehana joined forces on. The stereotype of ‘Asian’ or ‘Muslim’ grooming gangs exploiting young white girls has been used to spread fear and proselytise among the far right to rally its supporters.

While Peter and Rehana had each separately been raising concerns about sexual abuse, they had not been able to move things forward, so instead they created Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation (FACES) together.

The group has raised awareness around the issue of sexual exploitation in both the Christian and Muslim communities of Luton, often through Sunday school or Madrasa classes.

“Together we are able to be proactive about issues at the heart of the far-right’s Islamophobic narratives,” says Peter. “Sexual exploitation is part of their rhetoric and with FACES we’ve started to address the issue in the local community – if there’s ever a case in Luton, we will be working together, united in our response that this doesn’t represent our community and we are working together to oppose it.”

The links formed between the communities were useful in promoting understanding on other issues such as Prevent, part of the UK government’s counter terrorism strategy that many critics feel is counterproductive and toxic.

“Church leaders told me, ‘we couldn’t live like that, we couldn’t do our pastoral work with young people who are questioning life knowing we had to report on them’,” says Peter.

After understanding the impact it was having on the Muslim community of Luton, church leaders banded together and wrote to the local government, opposing the programme.

The friendships built through working together are the most essential part of their work, according to Peter and Rehana.

“A young Muslim activist discovered he lived close to a church leader so they started going running together, they’re even now training for a marathon together,” Peter describes.

“Suddenly, that church leader invited the activist to speak at his church – and this is not a church that does interfaith work, it’s a very convinced, very committed evangelical church.”

Peter described this as one of many examples where a relationship built through other activities allowed work on interfaith and in reducing anti-Muslim hatred.

Peter and Rehana’s work on Islamophobia is often carried out indirectly, through open discussions and a willingness to listen to people without condemning them, even when their words are offensive.

Rehana says she doesn’t let herself get bogged down in debates over the term “Islamophobia” (which some people object to) but links it back to the community.

Last year, they carried out a survey on anti-Muslim hate crime and captured the stories of more than 100 victims – all except one were women.

“When we shared those stories, people were really moved,” says Rehana. “For some, Islamophobia was just criticising, but when it’s a mum somebody tried to run over, you make it about real people, then it becomes different.”

Rehana says some people she meets are scared of Muslims but don’t openly express their views for fear that they will be lambasted, so she addresses the elephant in the room herself.

“That level of honesty helps move the conversation along and addressing the elephant in the room helps,” says Rehana.

The relationships forged on community issues also helped the two communities build a united front against Britain First, when in the past the far-right group decided to march through town.

Rehana attributes the injunction the Bedfordshire police arranged against Britain First to the strength of the local community response to having another far-right group march through Luton.

The civil injunction bans the group from ever coming to Luton and Fransen and Golding cannot enter a mosque anywhere in England and Wales.


“During the 10 year anniversary of the 7/7 London bombing, there was pain and a real desire within the Muslim community to express that but it was difficult to do that without looking like you’re apologising for something – when you have nothing to apologise for – how do you express that pain?” says Rehana.

This is a common difficulty when an attack by Islamist extremists occurs and the local Muslim population are both part of the victim pool yet also perceived as linked to the aggressor.

Eventually, Peter and Rehana organised a walk through town with faith and non-faith members of the community, along with a talk about sharing the pain felt for the victims of the bombing.

Other divisive tactics Peter and Rehana have fought against have been members of Britain First going to densely populated Muslim areas in Luton and aggressively parading with large crosses and provoking Muslim bystanders into filmed arguments.

Peter decided to organise a peaceful march afterwards, meeting Muslims in the same area and reassuring them Britain First members weren’t a true reflection of Christianity.

When a priest was murdered in France in 2016, members of the Muslim community responded in turn by meeting churchgoers with flowers. The relationship built over the years between Rehana and Peter also helps them bounce ideas back and capture the appropriate response for each community.

One difficulty Rehana faces alone however is being listened to across platforms.

“There is an imbalance here. Peter is a middle-aged white man who went to Oxford University and I’m brown, Muslim, a woman  – the triple whammy,” says Rehana. “It’s hard to make my voice heard when the other voices are so loud and that when people like me express these opinions, I’m told I don’t care about victims [of terrorist attacks] or that I’m supporting [an extremist group].”

Rehana adds that Peter is aware of her struggles and having him next to her when working helps to make his community listen more and makes her community feel more secure in expressing their concerns.

Moving forwards

“In the end, we’re just trying to get people to stop and listen in the busyness of life. To get people to talk to their colleagues and neighbours. There is nothing more moving than to hear the story of someone you meet on the day to day and realise they are facing something difficult on a daily basis,” says Peter.

Rehana adds that many Muslims feel they don’t have a voice and seeing her, “a non-professional mum with six kids” voicing their concerns publicly is empowering.

On both sides, having a credible member of the community discussing another community’s issues is more likely to be listened to and trusted.

Working on local issues together is a visible testimony against the ‘Christian West versus the Muslim invaders’ narrative peddled by the far right.

“Although it’s a minor thing, the visibility of our work challenges that narrative and impacts the community,” says Rehana.

Every year during the month of Ramadan, she organises iftars, where Muslims break their fast at dusk, with all the women in Luton invited. Rehana says she saw around 1,500 women come last year and they had to turn away food because so much was being donated to the dinners.

“We are for community from the community, we are not some outside group that comes in and does resilience training and brings out anti-extremist narratives – we are people from this town and we love our town,” Rehana explains.


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