Walking With Muslims: An Interfaith Response to the Murder in Queens
In light of the recent killing of Imam Maulana Akonjee and Thara Miah in Queens, New York, we have gathered the voices of various faith leaders to express comfort and solidarity.
The absurd and tragic slaying of Imam Maulama Akonjee brings fear to the hearts and minds of all New Yorkers, no matter our faith or our borough or our political affiliation. The fear radiates and causes my Muslim friends deeper anxiety than they already had. Given the current climate of political rhetoric that polarizes and then polarizes some more, this kind of violent tragedy comes as no surprise. As historians of genocide understand way too well, you have to intervene early, not late, with polarizing, insulting, debasing language about any so-called "other." Intervening late is too late. It brings the murderers out and lets them imagine they have moral justification. We can only pray that this latest incident of severe anti-muslim attack is unrelated to the rhetoric. Our hearts can dare to hope. Our minds however must look at cold data with cold common sense. The rhetoric has heated up. And now a good religious leader lays dead in the street. What if a priest were murdered by a shot to the head up close? Or a minister? Or a rabbi? We would be equally horrified. Reminiscences of the horror in a Charleston come to mind.
We may never know what caused a good man and a great Imam to be shot in the back. We may never know what caused a good man like Tharra Uddin to die such an unlikely and dramatic death, while walking home from worship and work. But we do know that they are gone from this earth. We can only say "sorry" so much. We have to stop the divisive and hateful rhetoric, way too much of it which is done in the name of so-called religion. True religion loves. It does not hate.
"The Genie is Out of the Bottle"
What lay repressed by exercise of restraint, buried under layers of civilized behavior, simmering in the subconscious, is now unleashed. I am referring to bigotry and prejudice. Allow me to get really specific: Islamophobia. It was considered uncivilized and un-American to express hate. Now, thanks to the election rhetoric, it has been sanctioned.
Reading Imam Khalid Latif’s op-ed on CNN, and prompting from my interfaith network, gave me the courage to speak out. We don’t know if the murder of the Imam and assistant Imam in Queens, New York this past Saturday, was an expression of anti-Muslim sentiment, but I feel terrorized. Notice, that I didn’t call it a ‘hate crime’. It remains to be determined what motivated the killer, but I am nevertheless, terror-stricken.
Allow me to define terrorism in my layperson’s understanding:
Person(s) creating terror by killing innocent victims.
We—as in Muslims—are now living in a state of terror. Muslims, or anyone who looks like a Muslim, is scared that he or she might be the next victim. That is terror! And what do we call an act that inflicts terror? Lets call it what it is: Terrorism!
During this election cycle, Muslims have been bullied, harassed, threatened, and assaulted. There has been loss of property, and burning of houses of worship. And now, an Imam has been murdered.
This anti-Muslim rhetoric has to stop. It has gone way too far. It is giving people a license to kill. It doesn’t get worse.
My dear readers, speak out. Speak out as individuals, speak out through your networks, speak out through your leaders, garner support and raise your collective voice. Your voice has power. Words have power. We have seen how words can inflict hatred; lets harness the power of our words to spread respect and love.
The genie is out of the bottle. Can we put it back in?
Yes we can.
We can reclaim America.
Let there be peace, and let it begin with you and me.
New York City’s enormity affords us a certain anonymity. We can turn off the news, avoid eye contact on the train, let the call go to voicemail. We could keep our heads down, shutting out that which we imagine doesn’t affect us. But the tragic deaths of Imam Akonjee and Thara Uddin make our big city small and wake us from the false notion that we are disconnected from one another. We are family -when senseless violence happens in our own backyard, we grieve as one.
A text central to Jewish tradition declares: “Adonai echad,” “God is one.” The word “echad” is expansive in meaning, teaching that the whole universe has a oneness to it, a unity that connects every heart. Our unified beating heart breaks as the news of the murder of our Muslim brothers reaches our ears.
As a Jew, a rabbi, and a New Yorker I am appalled by the rising anti-Muslim sentiment in our country today. Whatever the motivation for this act of violence, we know that hatefulness toward our neighbor is not the path toward peace. May we know greater love in the days ahead and may the memory of these sacred individuals bring blessing to their loved ones and to us all.
I don’t know how to articulate the pain. After a day mourning the history of persecution against the Jewish people & the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem (Tisha B’Av), I came to learn about the destruction of two beautiful souls. These two people were murdered seemingly because of their Islamic faith—targeted for their faith alone. And though I’ve never met them, never knew their names—Imam Alauddin Akonjee and Thara Miah—until after their deaths, their memories call out from beyond the heavenly veil.
Although Judaism and Islam have quite distinct theologies, there is a common thread between these great faiths. Foremost above all, we are descendants of Abraham, a figure who brought peace between neighbors and set the example for his spiritual descendants. We each follow prophets whose words continue to inspire goodness and righteousness. When tragedy befalls our communities, we should mourn, we should let the tears flow. But once they are wiped from our cheeks, we should stand steadfast to bridge differences and engender a holy alliance between all people. It is our task to ensure that these deaths were not in vain, that we refocus and bring forth our efforts to foster a more pluralistic, peaceful society in which to live.
My stomach dropped when I read the headline: “Imam and Assistant, Killed.” I thought about my dear friend and colleague, Imam Khalid Latif, NYU’s Muslim chaplain. I thought about his amazing wife and children, and the wife and children left behind when Imam Akonjee and Thara Uddin were shot and killed.
I thought about my Muslim and Sikh students at NYU. I thought about how much additional fear and harassment they have had to endure during this election season, just for wearing their articles of faith or having brown or black skin.
I saw the news of the shooting just as Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the temples, was about to start. Being pregnant, I couldn’t fast as usual, but I grieved. I grieved for the centuries of history when my people were the targets of violence. I grieved for my Muslim family targeted today. I grieved for the loved ones of Imam Akonjee and Thara Uddin. I grieved for the brokenness of the world into which my baby will arrive.
And I prayed. I prayed that we would overcome the sickness of division, white supremacy and violence in this world. I prayed for the courage to use my voice, and any power I have, to make that a reality.
Does motive matter?
We don’t know why Imam Akonjee and Haji Thara Uddin were murdered on Saturday afternoon near Al-Furqan Jame Mosque, in Ozone Park, Queens. Questions of motive have been the focus of nearly all news stories and public statements about the killing.
Was it a hate crime driven by Islamophobia? Was the murderer settling a score? “There’s nothing in the preliminary investigation that would indicate that they were targeted by their faith,” said a deputy from the New York Police Department.
Does motive matter? Regardless of intent, this crime is felt by every Muslim across America. Each time a crime like this occurs, Muslims in America feel afraid and unsafe. Some hide their religious identity to avoid discrimination.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to love all unconditionally.
An opportunity waits for us to love our Muslim friends. On September 11th, as Americans, we will be in remembrance, however, this year the date is also coincidentally a significant day for Muslims as they celebrate the last day of Eid Al Adha. Eid is the most important Muslim holiday of the year, when Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son is remembered.
On September 11th, as Christians, let’s embrace our fellow Muslim Americans by saying “Eid Mubarak”. This means “blessings for the Eid holiday”.
Today and throughout the year, let us be thinking of ways to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. There is no greater commandment than this.
When Muslim leaders are targeted, all faith leaders are targeted. I was heart-broken when I learned of the murders of Imam Maulama Akonjee and his assistant Thara Uddin who were walking home after prayers on Saturday afternoon in Ozone Park, New York City. A father of three, Imam Akonjee has faithfully pastored the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque serving the Bangladeshi community of Ozone Park for two years. As an evangelical Christian pastor and theologian, I’m deeply concerned about the Islamophobia in America. Muslims and Christians are fellow travelers on the ancient paths of Abrahamic monotheism. When Muslims are murdered like Imam Akonjee and Mr. Uddin we feel their loss as if they were our own brothers. I extend my prayers and heart-felt condolences to the families of Imam Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin. As Christians, it’s vital that we open ourselves to listen to, learn from, and collaborate for the common good with our Muslim sisters and brothers. To this end, the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary is reaching out to the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque in Ozone Park to build bridges of hospitality, healing and hope. Together we can build a better world that reflects the shalom/salaam of our one God.
LOVING GOD = STOP THE HATE
On a day as hot as this one, I went to a mosque in Muscat, Oman. A mosque as blue as the sea, as stunning as a September sky. The mosque sits in the desert, built from devotion, piety, obedience.
With shoes off, and head covered, I opened the door to enter this mosque, an oasis for prayer in the desert. A fresh breath of cool air blew on my face—the love of Allah a palpable breeze, a tender embrace. I knelt, I prayed, I stood gazing upon the carved wood, the beauty of this space.
My colleagues told me that I am a muslim, that we are, all of us, muslims with a lowercase “m.” They said we are called into obedience, into relationship with our One God. I, a black Christian American clergywoman—a muslim.
My scripture tells me that I can’t love God, who is unseeable, unless I love my brother and sister who are. My scripture says loving God means loving neighbor and self.
And so, my muslim, Christian heart is broken today. My brothers—Imam Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin—were gunned down in cold blood. Their deaths grieve me. The anti-Muslim rhetoric in our nation grieves me. Obeying our One God means to stop the hate.
The tragic killing of Imam Akonjee and Thara Uddin has deeply saddened the Sikh community. Their murder reminds us that the current political and social climate has a direct and detrimental impact on Muslims and other minority communities.
We recognize that violence like this is connected to other structural violence in our society. We also recognize that the rise in hate crimes we have experienced the past several months is tied connected to the divisive rhetoric emerging from our political discourse.
Now, more than ever, it is apparent that we must hold our politicians accountable for hateful rhetoric. We must respond to such tragedies by reaffirming our values and principles. We must stand strong together, united and in solidarity. We must remain vigilant but not be fearful. And most of all, we must respond to such acts of hate with unwavering love.
We are all here, standing with you - as allies, as support systems, as fellow human beings. As Sikhs, we affirm that we are all in this together and that we will stand up for your right to practice religion freely in this country.
Religious leader Imam Maulama Akonjee and his associate, Thara Uddin, prayed together at the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque in Queens before walking outside into the sunlight. Minutes later, they were executed, leaving a community, and a nation, in fear, anger and mourning.
We can’t begin to imagine how a person becomes a cold-blooded killer, possessed by such hatred that they are brazen enough to execute people on a summer afternoon. We may never understand the real motive, but we know the heart-wrenching impact that the deaths of these two men is having on our community.
For the full statement, visit the Tanenbaum blog here.
I have never before heard of a member of the clergy gunned down in New York City.
When I heard the news about Imam Maulama Akonjee and his assistant, Thara Uddin, my heart sunk and thoughts raced. Has Islamophobia reached this level? Was this a hate crime? What does the community need? How can we be present and supportive of American Muslims and make sure that, especially at a moment such as this, they do not feel alone?
I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a member of Imam Akonjee's mosque in Queens. The depth of grief and suffering must is overwhelming even to contemplate.
While information is only beginning to emerge about the murders, and the Muslim community in Queens still only absorbing the news, what is clear is that we need to stand together across communities of faith and be sources of enduring support. Whether in providing financial support, social support, or simply being present, we cannot stand idly by when, all too literally, the blood of our neighbors is shed. We are called by our religious, civic, and universal values to stand with the bereaved and do all we possibly can to prevent further violence.
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