A Manchester man whose expression of solidarity with his local Muslim community has become viral last week has spoken of the need to "sometimes take the first step and build bridges."

Andrew Graystone, 57, stood outside his mosque during Friday prayers, holding a cardboard sign with a handwritten message: "You are my friends. I will protect you while you pray. "

Graystone, a writer from Levenshulme in Manchester, said he was motivated to support the Muslim community after hearing of the Christchurch attack. "I thought, what would it feel like when a Muslim today goes to prayer? I would feel a mixture of hostility and even fear. "

At a time when countries around the world are on high alert in further attacks by Islamophobia, Graystone decided he wanted to make sure the mosques in his neighborhood felt safe. "I took a map, wrote my message, went to my mosque on Barlow Road and stood outside."

Many worshipers were initially suspicious, he said. "They thought I was a protester. But when they saw what was on the board, people were warming up to me. "

Graystone stood outside during the Friday prayers and did not know that the imam had praised him during the service.

"When the people came out, I was surrounded by hundreds," he said. "People thanked me and blessed me. Some people said their belief in humanity had been restored. "

Images of Graystone, who grinned warmly when he saw a sign of support, became viral, and the people on Twitter recommended his solidarity.

Graystone said, "I've received around 100,000 messages in the last 24 hours – and barely any negative news. This shows the power to choose friendship over fear. "

Graystone is part of a church and says there is a network of local religious organizations working together to maintain social cohesion. He added: "It's not really about religion … It's about friendship and community – and sometimes you have to take the first step and build bridges."

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