Wednesday March 20, 2019
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US Muslims Feel Threatened After Open Fire at Two NZ Mosques

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it was "doing all it can to protect the homeland from violent extremists"

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People gather at a vigil to mourn for the victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, March 15, 2019. VOA

Shahed Amanullah, a Muslim American tech entrepreneur from Northern Virginia, says it was hard to sleep after watching a video of a right-wing extremist open fire at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“It was the picture we’ve all had in our heads for years. And it became real,” Amanullah said of the 17-minute video, apparently recorded by the attacker as he walked room to room, shooting at worshippers.

A 28-year-old Australian man has been arrested and charged with the attack, which left 49 people dead. Authorities described the man as an “extremist, right-wing violent terrorist.”

In a hate-filled, anti-immigrant manifesto posted online, the alleged gunman encouraged more attacks on Muslims worldwide and said he hoped the violence would worsen political divisions in the United States.

As Muslim Americans attended prayer services across the country Friday, many worried about “copycat” incidents, especially now that potential attackers have a video demonstration and training manual, said Amanullah.

“Muslims at prayer are uniquely vulnerable. They’re literally lined up with their backs toward you. You couldn’t get more vulnerable than that,” Amanullah said.

 

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A Metropolitan Police vehicle sits outside the Islamic Center of Washington in Washington, D.C., following the mosque attacks in New Zealand, March 15, 2019. VOA

U.S. reassures Muslim-Americans

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it was “doing all it can to protect the homeland from violent extremists.”

“While we are not aware of any current, credible or active threat domestically, nor of any current information regarding obvious ties between the perpetrators in New Zealand and anyone in the U.S., the department is cognizant of the potential concerns members of Muslim American communities may have as they gather at today’s congregational prayers,” the DHS statement said.

“Communities with concerns should contact their local law enforcement agency, whom we are committed to supporting as they protect local mosques and reassure local community members,” the statement added.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the U.S. “strongly condemns” the “vicious act of hate.” On Twitter, President Donald Trump slammed what he called the “horrible massacre,” but did not directly refer to white supremacists or terrorist activity against Muslims.

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People leave the Islamic Cultural Center of New York under increased police security following the shooting in New Zealand, March 15, 2019, in New York. VOA

Rising anti-Islam bigotry

For some Muslim American organizations, those comments were not enough, especially amid what they see as an intensifying wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric during Trump’s tenure.

At a Friday press conference, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for “national action to challenge growing Islamophobia, white supremacy and anti-immigrant bigotry.”

“CAIR has reported an unprecedented spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims, immigrants and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump as president and has repeatedly expressed concern about Islamophobic, white supremacist and racist Trump administration policies and appointments,” the organization said.

White House officials strongly deny any link between Trump and Islamophobic incidents, noting the president has repeatedly condemned hatred and violence in all forms.

But as a presidential candidate, Trump called for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Though Trump eventually backed down from that proposal, he later surrounded himself with several senior advisers who had explicitly embraced anti-Islam views. Those advisers include former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who once tweeted that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” and former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who has said the U.S. is the “wrong place” for “sharia-compliant” Muslims.

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Men leave the Islamic Cultural Center of New York under increased police security following the shooting in New Zealand, March 15, 2019, in New York. VOA

Underestimating white nationalist violence?

The White House has also been accused of underestimating the threat posed by white nationalists and other right-wing extremists.

Asked Friday whether white nationalism was a growing threat, Trump replied “not really,” and suggested that such groups are small in number.

Comments like that are problematic for analysts such as Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, who said in an online post that the U.S. and other Western governments should begin to prioritize white nationalist and other forms of right-wing terrorism.

“The Trump administration has cut programs focusing on right-wing groups even amid a growing threat,” Byman said. “Given the recent decline in jihadi violence in the United States, transferring some resources [to deal with white nationalist violence] is appropriate.”

ALSO READ: Terrorists Attack Two Mosques of New Zealand, Nearly 50 Killed

Trump has instead preferred to point out the threat caused by “radical Islamic terrorism” — a phrase he makes a point of repeating. That has pleased many conservatives, including Trump’s Republican allies in Congress, who accused former President Barack Obama of not doing enough to prevent acts by Muslim extremists.

That political climate is helping to create a scary moment for many American Muslims. But Amanullah said he wouldn’t be scared away from attending Friday prayers.

“I have a great deal of faith in my fellow Americans,” he said. “The one thing that’s super important to people is setting aside a few minutes on Fridays to push the world away. And we can’t have that stolen from us.”  (VOA)

Next Story

US Muslim Feeds the Needy and Homeless in his DC Restaurant

Mannan offers free meals to the homeless and anyone else in need

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A Pakistani immigrant who came to the U.S. as an impoverished young adult now helps feed the homeless and needy in his Washington restaurant. As a Muslim American, he says he's heeding the will of God; to serve his fellow men with what he has. Which in his case is food. VOA

When Pakistani immigrant Kazi Mannan came to the U.S. in 1996 as an impoverished young adult, he could only dream about success. He worked long hours in a series of tough jobs, saved money and learned everything he could about working and living in America.

His hard work paid off. After more than 20 years, he’s now a successful entrepreneur and owner of a popular Pakistani-Indian restaurant just a few blocks from the White House.

But what’s most remarkable about his story is what he’s doing in his restaurant every day.

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Kazi Mannan speaks with two of his regular homeless guests at his restaurant, which welcomes paying and non-paying customers. (J. Taboh/VOA)

Mannan offers free meals to the homeless and anyone else in need.

Paying it forward

He says it’s his way of heeding the principles of his Muslim faith.

“I know God is happy with me, what I do, because I do it with my pure heart, with my pure intention, to uplift others without seeking any reward, any recognition,” he says. “I don’t need any awards, I don’t need any money. I just want to please Him.”

Mannan helps the needy he says, because growing up poor in Pakistan, he knows what it’s like to be hungry.

“I have nine siblings and [we didn’t have] much to eat … when you are poor and you [don’t] have things that other people have, when you get it, you want to appreciate, you want to share with others,” he said.

His desire to share deepened as he worked as a limousine driver in the nation’s capital. He saw homeless people on the street, day and night, in all kinds of weather — looking for food in trash cans.

The experience had an impact.

“I don’t want to see another human being going through the poverty that I went through. I don’t want to see another human being going through the hunger that I went through. I want them to have that feeling that they were being accepted, so they can come and sit here and eat with respect,” he says.

Just like family

His message is simple. Come to Sakina Halal Grill, which is named after his late mother, ask for food, use the restroom, and sit for as long as you want.

“We will love you and respect you the same way we respect a paying guest. We will treat you like family,” he said.

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Members of the homeless community are welcome at Sakina Halal Grill restaurant anytime for a free meal. (J. Taboh/VOA)

Marchellor Lesueur, who is homeless, has been coming to the restaurant every day for the past eight months.

“I think that he’s a saint. He’s a beautiful man,” he says about Mannan. “My stomach was growling, I was looking for a blessing, then he popped up, gave me a card and invited me to a restaurant for lunch. And I was so overwhelmed and happy I couldn’t wait to get here, and ever since then I’ve been coming.”

Hegehiah Griakley is also a regular. He was finishing up a generous portion of rice and chicken, which he described as two meals in one.

“This is more than lunch,” he said. “They give you enough to feed you for the rest of the day I think. The food is great, the people are nice. I wouldn’t mind working here!”

Griakley says he once asked Mannan what he could give him in return for the free food. “Because most people expect you to give back.”

“But he said ‘no, no, no, no, no!’ He just wanted me to have a good meal,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe that. It was so nice. I loved it.”

Compassionate immigrant

Mannan estimates that he’s provided more than 80,000 free meals since the restaurant opened in 2013.

And when he’s not feeding the needy in his restaurant, Mannan delivers meals to local shelters and churches, and organizes food and clothing drives at nearby parks.

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Kazi Mannan distributes food to the needy at a local food and coat drive — one of many he organizes every year. (K.Mannan) VOA

“Some people tell me ‘homeless people are using drugs and you’re feeding them; that’s bad.’” To which he responds, “For you, it’s bad, for me, it’s joy. … I see a person who’s fallen to the ground. Whatever problem they went through to become homeless, it’s not my job to judge — my job is to give them respect and love.”

His paying customers are still his main business. Many of them contribute towards the free meals… and support his cause.

First time customer Geralyn Nathe-Evans was visiting from Minnesota when she read about Mannan’s mission in an article.

“I have a deep interest in social justice, Catholic social teaching … and so to be part of something bigger than myself, my son and I chose to come to lunch here today to support and be a small part of a great thing,” she said.

Serving your fellow man

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Sakina Halal Grill serves a hot luncheon buffet to paying as well as non-paying guests. (J.Taboh/VOA)

Mannan uses food as a way to help his fellow man, in practice of his faith. He urges others to do the same with their talents.

“If you’re a medical doctor, can you love him through your practice? If you are a lawyer, can you love him through your practice? Be kind and be compassionate to your client?” he asks.

ALSO READ: India and Pakistan Threaten to Release Missiles at Each Other

In doing so, he believes “we will all prosper and flourish” as a society.

Meantime, he says he will continue to nourish both body and soul of all who walk through the door of his restaurant.

“Just uplifting others is a joy for me. It doesn’t matter [what] color, religion you belong to. We are all human. I am focusing on humanity. I’m bringing humanity together and this is my mission.” (VOA)