Clapton mosque-goers who rescued neighbours from fire say: We've always been taught to help others - we weren't thinking of ourselves
PUBLISHED: 10:47 03 June 2019 | UPDATED: 20:03 07 June 2019
One of the hero mosque-goers who smashed their way into a burning building to rescue neighbours last week was a volunteer in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Zakariya Ahmed, 24, from Clapton, was one of four friends leaving the Madina Mosque in Lea Bridge Road in the early hours of Friday when they spotted a balcony had caught fire at Gooch House.
He climbed a wall and smashed a window to gain entry to the back of Gooch House.
He said: "Our purpose was to help our neighbours out.
"Being a Muslim it's a norm - it's what we're taught.
"We were not thinking about [the fact that] our lives might be at risk.
"I had nightmares of Grenfell at the back of my head."
Mr Ahmed worked directly with victims of Grenfell from the day after the fire there and said the group wanted to prevent a similar tragedy happening again.
The friends were too modest to be photographed when the Gazette asked.
Mohammed Hafesji, 26, told the Gazette: "We'd just finished our morning prayers.
"I could smell something burning. We looked around and we could see some smoke and sparks coming out [of Gooch House].
"As soon as we realised there was a fire, our first instinct was to run across and help the people."
The group of friends worked their way up to the 16th floor, knocking on each door until they got a response, and carried on evacuating residents after the fire service arrived until they reached the top floor.
They were forced to cover their mouths around the eighth floor, where the fire started, due to the amount of smoke in the stairways.
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"We were shouting and screaming to wake up the resident, who started putting out the fire before the fire service came," added Mohammed.
Another member of the group, Rizwan Belim, 25, who works in finance, lived in Gooch House 10 years ago.
He assisted elderly residents down the stairs and carried a woman who was immobile.
He said: "I think it's a normal thing to do if you see anyone in trouble. You just want to help.
"I was just happy that everyone got out and no one was injured."
Faizan Desai, 26, from Hackney, said: "All throughout this month of Ramadan we've been hearing reminders in the mosque of our duty to our neighbours, our duty to helping others, our duty to count our blessings.
"We were just acting on the things we've been taught throughout our lives."
Mr Desai wanted to let the residents of Gooch House know "our doors are always open to them".
The young men from the mosque said four of them were inside knocking on doors and two or three other people were at the ground level helping people. One called a friend who lives in Gooch House, who let them in the front at a similar time the back window was broken into. They also called the fire brigade on their way, who arrived minutes later, and said they started from the bottom and worked their way up each floor. They were still evacuating people after the fire service arrived.
Friday's night prayers at the mosque thanked those involved in the evacuation.
Mavis Holsworth, 81, has lived in the block for 41 years.
She said: "It was a harrowing experience. All in all, I can't thank the people enough. I can't praise them highly enough."
Meanwhile the vicar at nearby St James's Church, Rosemia Brown, confirmed the church hall had been opened for people to take shelter during the evacuation.
Rosemia said: "My son Claude and his partner Helen who lives in the church house, part of the hall, opened the hall for them to have a bit of shelter and facilities like toilets, until it was safe for them to go back."
If you'd like to thank the mosque-goers, fire brigade, church, or anyone else, you can write them an open letter and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org for this week's paper.