• An English Defence League (EDL) protestor, right, clashes with a member of the public during a demonstration in Birmingham, England on April 8, 2017. (Joe Giddens/PA via AP)Source: Joe Giddens/PA via AP
The image of Saffiyah Khan smiling at the irate leader of the English Defence League has been called 'iconic'.
Alyssa Braithwaite

10 Apr 2017 - 2:04 PM  UPDATED 10 Apr 2017 - 2:04 PM

A photograph of a young woman smiling defiantly at an angry English Defence League (EDL) protester has gone viral on social media, with many calling it 'iconic'. 

The image was captured by Press Association photographer Joe Giddens at a demonstration by about 100 members of the far-right group EDL in Birmingham on April 8, reportedly in response to the Westminster attack and the "continued increase in Islamic terrorism" linked to the city.

The photo was tweeted out by Birmingham MP Jess Philips, and has notched up more than 16,000 likes and been re-tweeted almost 9,000 times.

The woman in the photo has been identified as Saffiyah Khan, a Birmingham resident who says she is not a political activist and just wanted to keep a low profile, but felt compelled to step in when a group of more than 20 EDL supporters confronted a woman wearing a hijab who had been shouting at them.

"I was there with a few friends to look after people - because Muslims and people of colour are often abused," Khan told the Mirror.

"Nothing was really happening until a woman in a headscarf started shouting 'racist'. About 20 to 25 EDL people ran over and surrounded her. She looked absolutely terrified. I still hung back and waited for the police to sort it out.

"I waited two or three minutes and but the police did nothing, so I decided to go and try and get her out of there."

Khan says the woman left and the group turned on her, and she soon found herself being confronted by EDL leader Ian Crossland.

"Ian Crossland was poking his finger in my face, but I just stood there. I didn't do anything, I wasn't interested, that wasn't my intention," Khan says.

"I couldn't understand what was being said though to be honest, it was all very mumbled.

"But I wasn't scared in the slightest. I stay pretty calm in these situations. I knew they were trying to provoke me, but I wasn't going to be provoked."

Khan says she was pulled out of there by police, but was not arrested or charged. 

"I have lost my anonymity because of the picture, but on balance it was worth it," she says. "I have probably been profiled by them now and I have to take one for the team."

Piers Morgan declared it the "Photo of the Week", while many have called Khan a hero. 

The online response has taken Khan by surprise, as she told the Mirror: "I didn't realise how many people would be so supportive, so it was worth it."

Meanwhile, Birmingham central mosque decided to counter the EDL protest by holding a "Best of British" tea party, featuring union jack bunting, tea and cake, which was attended by about 300 people.

"We're just holding this event to show EDL that Birmingham is a peaceful city and we are all united irrespective of colour, race or religion," the mosque's chairman, Muhammad Afzal, told the Guardian.

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