The Sunday after the Fort Hood massacre, Imam Beny Ahya Abdul Ghani welcomed the entire Flushing community to the Muslim Center of New York in Flushing as part of the first Queens Interfaith Unity Walk. A young boy clad in jalabeeya, a robe ubiquitous in the Muslim world, distributed booklets entitled “What is Islam, Who are the Muslims?” to an audience of Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians.
Many in the Flushing Muslim community are especially reticent to discuss Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a Palestinian-American Muslim who allegedly shot and killed 13 people and wounded 30 last Thursday at Fort Hood in Texas.
Flushing Muslims are well aware of how the actions of one Muslim affect their entire community. Last September, the FBI arrested Imam Ahmad Wais Afzali, former leader at the Hazrat Abu Bakr Mosque, also in the area. Afzali, an FBI informant, allegedly knowingly withheld information from the government and tipped off terrorism suspect Najibullah Zazi, through his father, Mohammed. The resulting media frenzy meant hard times for Flushing’s Muslim population.
“Whenever such things happen, we face a bit more [mistreatment],” Board Chairman of the Muslim Center Dr. Khurshid Khan said of the Fort Hood shooting and the FBI arrests. Many of Khan’s friends allegedly experienced physical and verbal harassment after media coverage of high profile acts of terrorism and violence provoke hatred of the Muslim community.
Vandals sprayed the Muslim Center with messages of hate just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and many of the women in the community were harassed for wearing their headscarves in public. “It hurts,” Khan said.
One congregant of Afzali’s Hazrat Abu Bakr Mosque, Tariq Ishaq, says that he seldom tells strangers he is Muslim since the arrests. “It’s a very difficult time to be a Muslim,” Ishaq said.
Other congregants at the mosque refused to comment.
Nedzad Durkovic, another Flushing Muslim who visited the Muslim Center for the interfaith walk, said that he heard some Muslim men shaved their beards and females stopped wearing heijab, the traditional Muslim woman’s headscarf, after incidents like last Thursday’s shooting, saying that after 9/11 especially, the inclination to forgo visible signs of Muslim-ness is strong.
Imam Abdul Ghani instructed the Queens Interfaith unity walk participants in the tenets of Islam at a time when Muslim-Americans are trying to clarify their religion’s stance against terrorism and reaffirm their allegiance to the United States, much as they did after Sept. 11 and the Afzali/Zazi arrests.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council issued a press release on the day of the Fort Hood shooting to “unequivocally condemn this heinous incident. We share the sentiment of our President, who called the Fort Hood attack ‘a horrific outburst of violence.’”
Abdul Ghani noted that killing the innocent is not permissible in Islam. “In Islam, when you are living in peace and people are giving you your rights, there’s no way for you to act [as Hasan did],” he said, “How’s [Hasan] going to justify what he did in the eyes of God?”
Witnesses report that Nidal Hasan shouted “Allahu akbar,” (God is great) when he opened fire.
“You have people do things in the name of religion,” Durkovic said, distinguishing between Hasan’s attack and Islamic principle, “But that are not a part of that religion.”
Those who don’t take as clear a stance against Hasan are less inclined to speak.
Hasan’s family claims that frustration over his impending deployment to Afghanistan provoked the shootings.
Mohammed Javed is as much against the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as he is Hasan’s shooting, and sees both in a similar light. “[Muslims] are against terrorism in any way,” he said, “[whether] they kill our innocent people [in Iraq and Afghanistan] or if we kill their innocent people [in the U.S.].”
Some in the Flushing Muslim community are as quick to denounce U.S. media coverage of Fort Hood and incidents like it as they are Hasan’s bastardization of the faith.
Durkovic believes the media operates on a biased standard when it prominently identifies Hasan’s religious affiliation. “You don’t hear people talking about how Timothy McVeigh was Catholic,” he said.
Sayed Zedi, a congregant at the Muslim Center of New York, believes that Hasan should not be identified as a Muslim-American. “He is an American soldier. He should be court martialed as an American soldier, not as a Muslim.”
A leader at the Muslim Center, Zedi knows firsthand how the reverberation of one Muslim’s crimes affect an entire community. Zedi says that he recently attended a meeting arranged by the FBI to “make peace” with members of the Flushing Muslim community and claimead that “after the Afzali/Zazi arrests last September, many at the Muslim center have been under heavy surveillance.”