7 JULY 2016
On 7/7/2005, when terrorists targeted London, Sajda Mughal, 33, was on the Piccadilly line tube that was hit. Now she dedicates her life to fighting terror.
That tube shouldn’t have been my tube, but I was running late. I worked in investment banking and I did that journey on the Piccadilly line every single day.
My routine was, without fail, to get in the first carriage. But that day I got on in the middle of the train. Had I got on my usual carriage, I may not be here today – that was the one Germaine Lindsay blew up with his bomb.
It was rush hour so the train was packed. It left Kings Cross and 10 seconds into the tunnel, it happened. A massive explosion, the biggest bang I’ve ever heard.
The whole train shook, everyone fell forward, it went dark and the emergency lights kicked in. Smoke started to fill the carriage and it was hard to breathe, so I took my jacket off to make a veil. People were screaming and trying to break the glass to escape but I was just frozen in shock.
It didn’t even cross my mind that it might be a bomb. I thought we’d derailed and my mind was racing, thinking, "Another train is going to crash into us and there’ll be a fireball and we’re going to burn to death".
I was preparing myself to die. My thoughts went to growing up, my family, my life was flashing in front of my eyes. I hadn’t said goodbye to my loved ones, I hadn’t got married, had children or travelled the world.
We were down there 40 minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. Eventually I heard the distant voice of a policeman saying, "We’re coming to get you".
My heart had felt as if it was being strangled with a tight rope, and straight away the rope loosened. The police got us out of the carriage and escorted us down the tunnel and out of the station. It felt eerie.
The emergency services were attending to the seriously injured, so the rest of us were left to our own devices. There were crowds everywhere and I remember thinking, "What the hell are you staring at?" I went across the road to McDonald’s, ran into the toilets and broke down.
I looked in the mirror and I was black from the smoke. I cleaned myself up and tried to call my mum, but the phone lines were down. There was no transport so I had to walk home to Haringey, in North London.
I ran into my house, locked the door, closed the curtains and curled up on the sofa, waiting for my family to come and console me. I couldn’t turn on the news until the evening, and that’s when I found out it was a bomb.
It shook me, and knowing it was Muslim men shook me further. Being a Muslim, I know it clearly states in the Quran that if you take one innocent life, it’s as though you have taken the whole of humanity. What they did does not represent Islam.
I had to be signed off work, I couldn’t travel on the tube. I needed counselling, and a lot of family support got me through. When I went back to work six months later I was like a robot – my heart and mind were somewhere else.
I had questions. Why would anyone do this? What could have been done to prevent it? What about the parents of the bombers? They gave birth to them, they wanted the best for them, they would not have wanted their children to take innocent lives. That’s when my life changed.
Not only did I decide to get married and have children – I now have two daughters, aged six and two – I turned my back on my career. I could have continued working my way up and earned lots of money, but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to make a difference.
I started working with a charity called the JAN Trust, which helps marginalised, vulnerable women to lead more independent lives. I came on board to make a difference on the issue of extremism, working with mothers of young Muslims.
Some of these women have never switched on a computer, so we teach them to go online and expose them to the issues of radicalisation. A lot of them don’t speak English and will often only be watching TV from their own country, so they can be unaware – during one session, we found that, around the time of the beheadings, only 4% of the women knew who ISIS were.
It’s so important to educate those who can make a difference. We give them the skills to challenge their children’s grievances in a positive way, so, let’s say they’re angry about the air strikes, how do they get their voices heard in a democratic way?
We also work with schools. I’ve met students who sympathise with the 7/7 bombers. I told them my story, and put it into perspective – I could have been their sister, it was an indiscriminate attack against everyone, not just non-Muslims. We work with teachers too, as they have a duty to report radicalisation, and they’re feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with it.
Often what causes young people to be radicalised is challenging their grievances in the wrong way, but there are also the issues of alienation and high unemployment among young Muslims. The rise of Islamaphobia feeds into radicalisation too. They’re manipulated through chat rooms and social media.
Everything that’s happened since 7/7, such as the Paris attacks and the American shootings, is disheartening and worrying, but we’re making a difference on a grass-roots level. Changing one person’s mind can be enough to stop an act of terrorism.
The effects of what happened to me are still with me. I have to get on the tube for meetings, but I couldn’t do it day to day, and on the tenth anniversary, my husband told me I was screaming about the tube in my sleep.
I think about it every day. But everything happened for a reason and that day turned my life around. It strengthened my faith because it felt like an attack on Islam, thanks to the knock-on effect of Islamaphobia.
I’ve had death threats, my property vandalised, been told, "I’m going to slit your Muslim throat". I’ve feared for my life and my family want me to take a step back, but then they’ve won. They’re trying to break me down but I’m never, ever going to let that happen.
7 OCTOBER 2019
16 SEPTEMBER 2019