American Muslims deal with being targets of hate

Harris Zafar, national spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, preaches a message of tolerance in response to anti-Muslim hate. (Courtesy of Harris Zafar/Philly Trib)

Harris Zafar, national spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, preaches a message of tolerance in response to anti-Muslim hate. (Courtesy of Harris Zafar/Philly Trib)

When Harris Zafar explained to his three elementary school-aged children the horrific murder of at least 49 fellow Muslims in New Zealand on Friday, he applied the same context that he used when he explained to them the mass shooting carried out by Muslims that left 14 dead in San Bernardino, California, in 2015.

“This is what happens when you let hatred overtake your heart,” Zafar told his children. “This is what we encourage Muslims, whether the killer is Muslim or not, to tell your children. It has to go beyond sending someone your hearts and prayers.”

While Zafar, the national spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim communities, delivered a message here of tolerance in response to the slaughter of fellow Muslims in two mosques by white supremacists, police and counter terrorism units ramped up efforts to prevent future attacks against Muslims and their houses of worship.

“As a result of the unspeakable act that took 49 lives in New Zealand, the police department is increasing patrols in and around all mosques in the city,” Police Commissioner Richard Ross said. “Moreover, we are speaking to religious leaders in the area to provide guidance on enhanced security measures for all who attend religious services.

“We will remain vigilant in our efforts to keep everyone safe who attends any religious institution in the city,” Ross said.

Minister Rodney Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam and the President of the Philadelphia NAACP, noted Friday morning that the attack in the city of Christchurch that left dozens wounded took place during midday prayers, which he was preparing for.

Minister Rodney Muhammad fears that no house of worship is safe from white supremacists (Abdul R. Sulayman/The Philadelphia Tribune)

He noted the Nation of Islam continues to be in touch regularly with police “and other authorities” in an effort to stave off any potential terrorist threats.

“You can’t let your guard down,” said Muhammad, pointing out that many of the Muslims killed in the mass shooting had fled other countries where more extreme versions of Islam are practiced.

Muhammad said that it was wrong to view this as just an attack on Muslims. It was more an attack on people of all walks of life wanting to practice their religion, he said. He compared the slaughter to last October’s mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue where 11 people were killed and seven were injured during Shabbat morning services. He also mentioned the killing of nine African Americans during payer meeting inside the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015.

“I’m outraged that in houses of worship, whether it is a synagogue or a Christian church, anywhere God’s name is raised up has, across the world, become a magnet to attract people simply wanting to hate,” Muhammad said.

He also referenced the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, by members of the Ku Klux Klan that left four African-American girls to demonstrate that churches have never been safe spaces for African Americans.

“Black churches have always been burned and bombed,” Muhammad said, “so we have never experienced safe places of worship. But New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world. Hatred has a megaphone. Unfortunately, more people are hearing it and responding to it with hate.”

Some are connecting that megaphone to President Donald Trump and conservative commentators.

One of the shooters in the New Zealand massacre published a 74-page manifesto praising Trump and Anders Breivik, the Norwegian white supremacist who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011. The manifesto, which has been described by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as a “work of hate”, hailed Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

“Words matter,” Zafar said. “The perpetual fear mongering, the extremism on the left and the right — it’s very dangerous.”


jmitchell@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5732

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