State Watch

Albuquerque killings stir up mixed emotions for Muslims across US

Altaf Hussain cries over the grave of his brother Aftab Hussein at Fairview Memorial Park in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.

The murder of four men in Albuquerque has put the Muslim community on high alert for future attacks, leaving some also concerned about the public perception of their Islamic faith.

Police detained a primary suspect on Tuesday for the murders of the men, the first of whom was killed months ago and the other three within the past two weeks. All four belonged to the same mosque.

The murders “placed the Muslim community in Albuquerque on edge and fearful for their safety,” said Zainab Chaudry, national spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.

“It also reminded Muslims around the country that this is obviously a concern that all of us have at some point to some degree, especially in light of the growing Islamophobia [and] the spike in hate incidents,” Chaudry added.

Islamic places of worship across the country, like the Mosque Foundation near Chicago, were forced to increase security and safety measures around their buildings in order to encourage their communities to continue their day-to-day activities. 

“These types of attacks can inspire others,” said Haroon Imtiaz, director of communications for the Islamic Society of North America. “We’ve seen in the past extremist attacks and then others being inspired by them. It makes us concerned that this could just show up anywhere else and we just don’t know.”

Tuesday’s arrest came nine months after 62-year-old Mohammad Ahmadi, the first victim, was murdered in November. Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, Aftab Hussein, 41, and Naeem Hussain, 25, were all killed within the last two weeks.

The arrest also brought a sense of relief for many, said Imtiaz. 

“We hope the investigation remains ongoing and it actually yields results,” said Imtiaz. “Hopefully the community can get a much needed level of peace, security and sense of well-being back because I know it’s been difficult for them. A lot of them [had] to adjust their lives. Some people were afraid to go pray in public. It’s been a very frightening time.”

But the arrest also elicited frustration and anger. 

The suspect, 51-year-old Muhammad Syed, is an Afghan man who may have known his victims. And though police have not yet identified the motive behind the attacks, they did acknowledge interpersonal conflict may have been a motivation. Syed identifies as Sunni Muslim, and three of the men murdered were Shia.

In a statement following the arrest, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said the organization was “disturbed by early indications that the alleged killer may have been targeting particular members of the Shia community.”

“If this is true, it is completely unacceptable, and we encourage law enforcement to file any appropriate hate crime charges against the suspect,” the statement continued. “Acts of hateful, sectarian violence against followers of the Shia tradition and any other group have no place in our communities, our country or anywhere else. American Muslims are and must be united against all forms of hateful bigotry, including anti-Shia bias.”  

Shia and Sunni leaders gathered Tuesday for a joint press conference to express “unity and solidarity” between the two sects. 

“Regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or the identity of the victims, we are united by our faith which reminds us every day … that truly the believers are one brotherhood,” said Awad. “I urge myself and all of us to keep that in mind. Our community is solid. Our community is strong. Our community is united. Our community will continue to show responsible leadership and love to another.” 

Still, Imtiaz expressed worry that news of the suspect’s identity could create a skewed perspective of what the Islamic faith represents.

“Our faith places a lot of emphasis on living in peace and harmony with others and also interfaith love and harmony,” said Imtiaz. “This type of sectarian hatred really just has no place in our faith and these type of attacks can send a message to others in public that maybe Islam actually tolerates this type of violence or that it’s OK or acceptable when, in reality, our faith doesn’t allow this and that this is completely and utterly unacceptable.”

Imtiaz encouraged non-Muslims to focus on the efforts Muslims are doing “for the common good” of the country, such as in health care, politics and other fields. 

He also said it’s important to remember it is “an insignificant percentage of the people” who engage in violent attacks and that they are not representative of the entire community. 

“We’re committed to civic engagement. We’re doing our best to fight for human rights in this country,” he said.

He also said leaders could counter false narratives of the Islamic faith by showing “their disapproval, their anger, and that they won’t tolerate this.”

But that includes looking at “the root causes” of some of the violence.

“Whether it’s mental health issues that really enable some of these types of violence, whether easy access to guns or whatever it could be, I think we also have to look at the underlying causes that might facilitate a lot of this hatred,” he said.

Tags Albuquerque Muslim community Muslims Nihad Awad
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