The first thing I felt Monday morning was grief. The slow trickle of news about another mass shooting can feel like just the next chapter in a long national assault on helpless victims, but it’s important we focus our energy on the victims whose experience in Las Vegas on Sunday night is new. Right now, I’m thinking about them and everyone else who has experienced this horror. My heart is broken.
The second thing I felt Monday was relief. That’s what I always feel when I learn a mass shooter wasn’t Muslim.
I wish, like many other Muslims I know, that my mind didn’t immediately arrive at “Oh God, was it a Muslim terrorist?” That’s a terrible way to think. But I don’t just feel that way because I don’t want my community to be forced to confront false associations. I’ve learned Americans have more pointed, sobering conversations about the root causes of this violence when they’re forced to confront a perpetrator they can’t so easily separate from themselves.
I know what will happen as soon as I hear a Muslim-sounding name connected to a shooting on the news. There’s question of accountability: Why didn’t “moderate Muslims” do more to stop it? What could I have done in New York to stop the Muslim shooter in Florida? Or California? If the shooter was born in America, the question then turns to the parents: Should they ever have been allowed to come here?
That’s how it went down after Omar Mateen was identified as the shooter in the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando in June 2016, until Sunday the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Within hours, reports chased down his immigration status and his connections with foreign terror groups, and a New York Times writer declared it the worst act of terrorism on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. By the following Monday, then-candidate Donald Trump had also seized on Mateen’s religion and national origin, bragging on Twitter “for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” He added, in an angry, rambling speech, “The only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here.”
Ted Hakey Jr. now spends his days working to spread the word of the Muslim community in Meriden.
It’s a far cry from what he felt in his heart two years ago when he was arrested after shooting at an empty mosque.
“I was a Muslim hater,” Hakey told NBC Connecticut’s Keisha Grant in an exclusive interview.
The former U.S. Marine was arrested for a hate crime in November 2015 after firing 30 shots into the Ahmadiyya Baitul Aman Mosque on Main Street with a high-powered rifle a day after the Paris attacks.
Hakey said he found himself intoxicated and fed up with attacks halfway around the world.
“The night of the Paris attacks, you could see the mosque clearly from my house because there were no leaves on the trees,” Hakey said. “I went to get out of my car and looked over and kind of thought, ‘Well, let me do something about it.'”
Four of the 30 shots Hakey fired tore through the Baitul Aman Mosque in the middle of the night. It took federal and local authorities just hours to trace the bullets back to Hakey and the FBI arrested him on federal hate crime charges.
Zahir Mannan, one of the leaders of the mosque, said those bullets didn’t just pierce walls. They also shot fear through the heart of the Ahmadiyya community. This sect of Islam is made up by the only group of Muslims who believe in the Messiah.
The sun has set, the hiking, swimming and prayers are over and a group of kids are goofing off, taking turns telling corny jokes in the woods.
“Why did the cow cross the road?” a kindergartner yells into a megaphone in front of his fellow campers. “Because the chicken was on vacation!”
It’s a typical summer camp in Northern California, except at this camp all the kids are Muslim.
Every summer for 55 years, Muslim kids, teens, young adults and parents gather in these woods to learn about faith and have fun. It is the oldest camp of its kind for young Muslims in America. But today the camp has a different meaning for this new generation. It’s a momentary respite for the campers in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is rising sharply.
The late Marghoob Quraishi and his wife, Renae “Iffat” Quraishi, founded it, to help new American Muslims find a sense of community.
Originally Indo-Pakistani, Marghoob ended up at Stanford University in California. His daughters say he looked around and realized that new American Muslims, like himself, needed a place to teach their kids about being American Muslims. His wife is an American Caucasian woman who converted to Islam from Methodism and grew up going to Methodist summer camp. So the couple modeled it on that.
Only days after the end of Ramadan and just before the July Fourth holiday, thousands of people gathered at a Chicago convention center for the 54th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America. Activists, scholars, religious leaders, booksellers, food vendors, and families of many backgrounds speaking many languages attended panels about topics as varied as religion, relationships, politics, cybersecurity and climate change. Despite their diverse backgrounds, many in attendance had two things in common: They were American, and they were Muslim.
Speaking at a panel on political views after the 2016 election, Besheer Mohamed, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, suggested that an upcoming report would put numbers to the diversity that could be observed at the conference. That survey, released Wednesday morning, is the third in a series of Pew surveys of Muslims in the U.S. taken over the past 10 years.1 It is also a window into the changing attitudes of American Muslims — who make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population2 — on issues such as politics and homosexuality.3
“The key theme that we see regarding U.S. Muslims is diversity,” Mohamed told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of the report’s release. “Among immigrants, no single ethnic group has a majority. … Among U.S.-born Muslims, no racial group has a majority.”
Before departing for my recent trip to Jordan in the Middle East, I was repeatedly asked if I feared for my safety. Such questions are not new to me. Since my daughter has lived in Jordan for the past three years, I have repeatedly been asked variations of, “How do you sleep at night when your daughter lives in such an unsafe [usually meant “Muslim”] country?”
These questions, however, sadly misunderstand both Jordan and Islam. The biggest threat to my safety in Jordan’s capital city, as in any big city in which traffic overwhelm roads, was drivers! Although I had some near scrapes, I survived my many dicey encounters with Jordan’s erratic drivers unscathed.
While surrounded by countries in civil upheaval or civil war or just plain war, Jordan itself is a remarkable oasis of peace. When you think of Jordan, you should think of tranquility, beauty, Roman and Greek antiquity (and older), Islam, and Christianity. And—have I made my point?—peace.
Think, instead, of Wadi Rum, Jordan’s severely romantic desert landscape (where Matt Damon’s “The Martian” was filmed).
Think of Petra, the towering and sprawling remains of one of the ancient world’s most amazing cities (and you don’t need to just think of Petra, you saw it in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”).
Think of the Dead Sea, in which you can magically float, if not walk, on water. Think of Jordan’s verdant and craggy north, replete with pine trees and hot springs and Roman ruins. Think likewise of rich Roman mosaics preserved for two thousand years under the floors of some of the earliest Christian churches. And think of centuries and thousands of Christians pilgrimaging to the sites of Jesus’s baptism, the beheading of John the Baptist, and the valley where Moses died.
All of this movie’s main characters are Muslims. In fact, the screenplay’s deepest wisdom is spoken in a mosque by a passionate imam. But when I showed it to a room full of Christian writers, what followed was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had at the movies.
Last January, at a conference center on Whidbey Island, The Chrysostom Societyretreat organizers asked me to share movies with the group of writers that had gathered together. This year, Timbuktu lifted us from our soggy Pacific Northwest surroundings and set us down at the edge of the Sahara. When the movie was over, we sat in a heavy hush, reflecting on what we had seen.
Consider this: A 99% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. A Cannes Film Festival Ecumenical Jury prize. An Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Top honors from the Africa Movie Academy Awards.
Yet, like so many world-class films, Timbuktu remains almost unknown to American moviegoers. It’s subtitled, after all. It’s foreign. It doesn’t star familiar names and faces.
In a recent promotional video, a Christian filmmaker declared with confidence that he would give Christians what they want to see:
A Christian worldview on the screen (not somebody else’s).
Two hours without any risk of being offended.
Christians gave him a lot of money, and his film was widely distributed.
Some months ago, I gave a reading from my most recent novel in Scottsdale, Ariz. During the discussion that followed, a woman asked me to talk about my upbringing in Morocco. It’s natural for readers to be curious about a writer they’ve come to hear, I told myself. I continued to tell myself this even after the conversation drifted to Islam, and then to ISIS. Eventually, another woman raised her hand and said that the only Muslims she saw when she turned on the television were extremists. “Why aren’t we hearing more from people like you?” she asked me.
“You are,” I said with a nervous laugh. “Right now.” I wanted to tell her that there were plenty of ordinary Muslims in this country. We come in all races and ethnicities. Some of us are more visible by virtue of beards or head scarves. Others are less conspicuous, unless they give book talks and it becomes clear that they, too, identify as Muslims.
To be fair, I’m not a very good Muslim. I don’t perform daily prayers anymore. I have never been on a pilgrimage to Mecca. I partake of the forbidden drink. I do give to charity whenever I can, but I imagine that this would not be enough to save me were I to have the misfortune, through an accident of birth or migration, to live in a place like Raqqa, Syria, where in the last two years, the group variously known as Daesh, ISIL or ISIS has established a caliphate: a successor to past Islamic empires. Life in Raqqa reportedly follows rules that range from the horrifying to the absurd: The heads of people who have been executed are posted on spikes in the town’s main square; women must wear a niqab and be accompanied by a male companion when they go out; smoking and swearing are not allowed; chemistry is no longer taught in schools and traffic police are not permitted to have whistles because ISIS considers them un-Islamic.
As part of its efforts to spread its message outside the territory it controls, ISIS puts out an English-language magazine, Dabiq, which can be found online. In February, Dabiq featured a 12-page article, complete with high-resolution photos and multiple footnotes, cheering the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and claiming that they made manifest for the world two camps: the camp of Islam under the caliphate and the camp of the West under the crusaders. The article ran under the title “The Extinction of the Grayzone.” The gray zone is the space inhabited by any Muslim who has not joined the ranks of either ISIS or the crusaders. Throughout the article, these Muslims are called “the grayish,” “the hypocrites” and, for variety, “the grayish hypocrites.”