Manchester native Andrew Graystone never expected to become a viral celebrity. He simply hoped to express his solidarity with his Muslim neighbors. Yet the picture of Graystone holding a makeshift sign outside a mosque after the New Zealand terrorist attack has been shared across the world.
Graystone, 57, decided to stand outside his local mosque during Friday prayers with a sign that read, “You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray.” The Levenshulme resident told HuffPost UK that initially he was met with reservation by those attending the prayer service, yet soon they welcomed his presence.
“As people walked up you could sort of sense that they were looking at me thinking ‘oh no, is this a protest’ or something and then when they got to me and they read my little board which said they were my friends you could see them soften,” Graystone said.
He added, “Apparently, the Imam mentioned that I was there during the prayers and when people came out, everybody wanted to say hello and shake hands, and a few wanted photographs. But then, to be honest, after that I just thought ‘oh, that was good’ and went home.
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Andrew Graystone stood outside the Madina mosque in Manchester, England on Friday after hearing about the terrorist attack at two mosques in New Zealand that left 49 people dead. He held a cardboard sign with a handwritten message: “You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray.” “I have received around 100,000 messages in the last 24 hours, and hardly any negative messages. That shows the power of choosing friendship over fear”, he said. Graystone belongs to a church, and says there is a network of local faith organisations which work together to maintain social cohesion. “It isn’t really about religion. It’s about community,” he explained. “It’s about friendship and community, and you have to take the first step sometimes and build bridges. At times like this, you have to choose between fear and friendship. You have to make that choice.”
A few hours later, an image uploaded to social media, which showed Graystone outside the mosque holding his sign, was shared by hundreds and then thousands of people on Facebook. Another post on Twitter shared by Graystone’s daughter, Ruth, has been shared almost 50,000 times. Many have commented that Graystone is a hero, noting that not all heroes wear capes.
The next day, Graystone, who is a Christian, explained why he decided to go to the mosque. He said when he got up on Friday morning, he heard the dreadful news from Christchurch, New Zealand, and thought, “if I was a Muslim in Britain, in my community, how would I feel today?”
“I thought I might feel that things were hostile, insecure," Graystone said. "If it can happen in Christchurch, it can happen anywhere. So I thought this was a little thing that I can do. I just scribbled a notice on a piece of card and went down to the mosque at the beginning of Friday prayers and stood by the door."
Graystone’s act of solidarity was emulated around the world. The mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, which claimed 50 lives and resulted in another 42 people being injured, have been described as a terrorist act. The man arrested has been identified as a right-wing extremist.
Graystone hopes that his gesture shows people that they can choose between fear and friendship.
“The fantastic thing is, since yesterday, I’ve had, I think probably 10 or less negative messages and something like 100,000 positive messages,” he said. “If you put those together, you think ‘friendship’s going to win here’.”
Graystone’s message coincides with the response of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has been praised for her compassion following the attack. Ardern has given voice to the grief of the tiny island country that prides itself on being open and tolerant.
Her compassion and empathy for the survivors and the families of those whose lives have been lost have equaled by her determination to refuse to give the terrorist a platform. Ardern said she wouldn’t allow the gunman to spread his white supremacist views and hate.
“You will never hear me speak his name,” she said in parliament