Multi-faith celebration pays tribute to British aid worker Alan Henning

Henning remembered as ‘beautiful and genuine’ during the service, a week after the Briton was murdered by Isis
Helen Pidd, northern editor
The Guardian,
A woman lights a candle at the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester at the memorial service for Alan Henning. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Hundreds of well-wishers have joined Alan Henning’s family for a multi-faith celebration of his life, nine days after the Salford taxi driver was murdered by Islamist terrorists as part of their propaganda war against the west.

His widow, Barbara, and their children Adam and Lucy cried as they listened to warm tributes from friends, MPs and representatives from Greater Manchester’s Jewish, Islamic and Christian communities.

“We are here to remember a hero,” said Dr Usman Chaudhary, opening the service at the British Muslim Heritage Centre, a grade II* listed building in south Manchester which originally housed a seminary for nonconformist Christian ministers.

Chaudhary said Henning was “a hero who left the comforts of his own home for no other reason than to help the destitute and needy refugees of Syria. A hero who put the needs of others before his own.”

Henning, known as “Gadget” or “Gadge” because he was brilliant at fixing things, was kidnapped by Isis militants soon after crossing into Syria on a humanitarian aid mission on 27 December last year. A non-Muslim, he was motivated not by religious faith but compassion, the event heard.

One of his friends, Dr Shameela Islam-Zulfiqar, condemned those who sought to use his murder to divide Christians from Muslims, “to spout hatred and bigotry” and foster what she called a “them versus us” approach. David Arnold, a representative of Manchester’s Jewish community, said Christianity, Judaism and Islam had shared values which Henning demonstrated: “We all understand, as Alan understood, that all human life is not just precious but sacred.”

Asim Hussain, the imam at Manchester Central mosque, said: “Alan was an individual who embodies more Islamic values than the entire Isis put together. That’s what makes him our hero.”

A video was played showing Henning in an ambulance on his way to Syria, with voiceovers from refugee children thanking his family for his sacrifice.

Majid Freeman, an aid worker from Leicester who accompanied him on that final convoy, said: “Alan was a beautiful, genuine human being inside and out. He went to Syria to help at a time when the whole international community had abandoned them.

“The international community leaders were paying mere lip service while Alan and many other aid workers were actually feeding these people, sheltering them, giving them aid, taking nappies for the babies, ambulances and generators for the hospitals, sweets and toys for the children and so much more.”

Islam-Zulfiqar paid affectionate tribute to the Gadge his friends remembered – a “class-A snorer” who was relentlessly, infectiously upbeat in his mission to help Syria’s children. “I remember him ringing me several times to help facilitate a bucket collection at a local supermarket,” she recalled. “When I said: ‘Gadge, I’m really busy,’ he said: ‘Come on, get your skates on, the children of Syria are waiting. They don’t understand the pressure we are under. They just need sorting.’”

Barbara Henning smiled as Yasmine Nahlawi, a Syrian-born academic from Rethink Rebuild Society, an organisation for Manchester’s Syrian community, said she wished Henning had visited Syria before the war.

“I wish he could have strolled through the streets of Syrian cities and villages and seen how people would have argued over who would get to invite him over for dinner, or how taxi drivers would have refused to take fares from him as a gesture of welcome to our country.”

Other speakers included the Greater Manchester MPs John Leech and Yasmin Qureshi and the police and crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd. All wore yellow flowers or ribbons in their lapels: yellow having first been used as a symbol of hope and then sorrow when Henning’s kidnap and subsequent murder were made public by the release of Isis propaganda videos.

A fund set up a week ago by Henning’s friends has so far raised almost £30,000 for his children.