On August 5, a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was attacked by a domestic terrorist, who left 6 worshippers dead and several injured. The attacker, Wade Michael Page, killed himself before he could be arrested by the police.
A day later, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri, was burned to the ground as a result of apparent arson. The following day, a sign outside a mosque in Rhode Island was vandalized.
In the Wisconsin incident, a community which has often been mistaken as Muslims was targeted. The very first reported hate crime against American Muslims after the 9/11 tragedy was the killing of a Sikh-American in Arizona.
The Sikhs, followers of a religion founded 500 years ago, being originally from India and Pakistan are similar in physical features to many, though not all, Muslims. One doesn’t have to look further than the Devon Avenue area in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, where, since the first Gulf War in the early 1990’s, Sikhs have had to bear the brunt of several racially motivated incidents in the Chicago. The Oak Creek incident was no different.
The Chicago area Muslims were aghast at the tragedy in Wisconsin, and lent moral support and solidarity to our Sikh brethren in their time of tribulation. At the same time, we American Muslims were devastated to hear of horrific stories from Rhode Island and Missouri.
American Muslims are not the first ever in the US to have been ostracized for their religions and/or race. Just four years ago, we found ourselves asking if the country was ready for a black president, and then, if Barack Obama is black enough. Both are inane questions in my mind as there are no intelligent answers to such political ramblings. (Of course, there was a little controversy – based on unfounded claims – that Obama is a Muslim.
It took the moral courage of an American hero like General Colin Powell to famously ask “What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in America?”) Now, we find ourselves debating if we are ready for a Mormon President. Little over a generation ago, we were wondering if a Catholic could be a loyal American President.
As I was finishing up my thoughts on these issues and their pertinence to defining what it means to be an American, I ended my blog by proudly asserting that this sort of thing would never happen in Morton Grove. I wrote too soon!
I’m, of course, talking about the shooting incident last Friday when a long-time opponent of Muslims allegedly fired pellet shots in the mosque area. As has been widely reported, the shots caused little damage to the building, but narrowly missed an off-duty officer on the premises.
After a thorough investigation, a neighbor, David Conrad, was arrested for allegedly firing into the mosque in Morton Grove. While I have full faith in our system that if he is found guilty, he will be prosecuted accordingly and will pay his dues to the society, a few questions linger in my mind:
Were there other firearms in Conrad’s house? Is he going to be prohibited from buying any firearms now? What precautions can we take against such incidents in the future? What if this had happened during a school day?
The facility in Morton Grove, known as the Muslim Education Center (MEC) is not only a mosque, but houses a full time school as well. In fact, it’s a point of pride to us that this is one of the oldest and largest Islamic schools in the US. We expect our enrollment to be over 450 when the school starts in a few weeks. I’m a parent there, and can’t help wonder what lies ahead.
We all know of Conrad’s history of opposition and complaints against the Muslims. We have gone out of our way to accommodate him. For example, when he complained about the sound of car doors being closed in the evening, we asked our congregation to not park on the side of the parking lot which is close to his house. In the past, I’ve also informally asked the village officials to invite him to visit the mosque.
In trying times like this, I remember how our neighbors reached out to us on the tragic morning of September 11, 2001. Pastors from the neighboring St. Martha Church walked over to make sure that the kids were ok; that they were not being harassed in any way. A few years later when someone threw a brick on a window in the mosque, the Church’s members collected donations to pay for the repair.
There is no evidence that the vandalism was conducted by anyone from this church, but this simple gesture speaks volumes about the collective character of these neighborhoods. Similarly, as soon as the word spread about Friday’s incident, a number of Jewish leaders emailed and called me to show their support. To me, this is all part of Americana, and can never be forgotten.
We are entering the last few days of the holy month of Ramadan, whose major theme is forgiveness – asking our Creator for forgiveness for our mistakes and omissions, and also forgiving others for their imperfections. Ramadan, tantamount to a spiritual boot camp, is a time when we identify our shortcomings, repent our transgressions, and then treat others with greater compassion.
The other parents at the school I spoke with wish that Conrad is guided by God. When Jesus was being crucified, he forgave his perpetrators for ‘they do not know”. When Prophet Muhammad was pelted with stones in a hostile valley, he asked for his attackers’ forgiveness for “they do not know what they are doing”. I, as a humble and insignificant follower, strongly feel that Conrad doesn’t know any better, either.
His actions, however imprudent and dangerous, are rooted in ignorance. I hope that the Lord showers His mercy on him and guides him to be a better citizen (ameen). Even if the court finds him guilty, I forgive you, David Conrad, because you do not know.