CRIME

For American Muslims, A Horrifying Runup To One Of Islam's Holiest Holidays

Among multiple Islamophobic crimes, a man set a Muslim woman on fire in New York.

On Thursday, a woman in Brooklyn allegedly attacked two Muslim women who were pushing their babies in strollers. The woman, screaming profanities, tried to rip their hijabs off their heads.

“Get the fuck out of America, bitches,” she said, according to prosecutors. “This is America — you shouldn’t be different from us.”

On Saturday, a man walked up to a woman in a hijab on a Manhattan street, and set her on fire.

On Sunday ― the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks ― someone threw a “rock-like” object through a New Hampshire mosque’s window while parishioners were inside. 

On early Monday morning ― the beginning of the Eid al-Adha, one of Islam’s holiest holidays ― a man allegedly walked up to a mosque in Florida and set it on fire

And on Monday night, someone repeatedly backed a tractor-trailer into a Maryland mosque

The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce in Fort Pierce, Florida, after someone set it on fire.
The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce in Fort Pierce, Florida, after someone set it on fire.

Eid al-Adha is a four-day period of community and celebration, marked by prayer, feasting and gift-giving. But in America this year, it was also marked by fear and sadness. 

“I’m running out of things to say, really,” an exasperated Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said on Monday. “Each [incident] is followed by another.”

“At this sacred and joyous time for Muslims in the U.S. and around the world, the surge in anti-Muslim attacks is particularly shocking and disheartening,” Nazir Harb, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, told The Huffington Post. 

Muslims in America, Harb said, “began scrambling months ago when it was determined that this year’s Eid holiday would fall on or around the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.”

The concern was this: Americans reliving the horrible memories of 9/11 might wrongly perceive public celebrations of Eid as disrespectful, and then lash out against Muslims. 

But despite a media campaign and a grassroots effort to educate the American public about why Eid was occurring so close to the 9/11 anniversary (answer: the lunar calendar), Harb said that “some of the most gruesome Islamophobic attacks since 9/11 occurred around Eid this week.” 

Several thousand Muslims attended a service for the Eid al-Adha holiday on Sept. 12, 2016, at a high school football field in
Several thousand Muslims attended a service for the Eid al-Adha holiday on Sept. 12, 2016, at a high school football field in Queens, New York.

“Muslims in this country frequently report potential terrorist incidents and condemn all attacks carried out wrongfully in the name of Islam,” Harb added. “While it is easy, and perhaps comforting, to blame all Muslims for terrorism in the world, such beliefs give rise to violence that hurts innocent, ordinary people.”

It’s unclear whether the celebration of Eid had anything to do with this most recent series of vicious Islamophobic crimes. But Islam’s other major holiday, Ramadan, was also marred by anti-Muslim aggression this year. 

HuffPost documented at least 20 anti-Muslim crimes in the U.S. from June 4 to July 6, including shootings, assaults and acts of vandalism. 

All of these attacks, of course, have occurred against the backdrop of a presidential election season awash in vitriolic anti-Muslim political speech, most notably from Republican nominee Donald Trump and his advisers. 

Since 2015, Trump has proposed banning Muslims from entering the U.S., called for a national database of Muslims, said that mosques should be surveilled and Muslims should be profiled, suggested that the Muslim mother of a fallen American soldier didn’t speak at the Democratic National Convention because she wasn’t allowed to talk, and flat-out said that “Islam hates us.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump engaged in an emotionally charged feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the bereaved
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump engaged in an emotionally charged feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the bereaved parents of a decorated Muslim Army captain killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq.

Meanwhile, this election season has also seen a frightening surge in anti-Muslim attacks. According to the group Muslim Advocates, there have been over 100 hate crimes targeting Muslims in the U.S. since the Paris terror attacks last November. 

A report from The Bridge Initiative found that there were more acts of anti-Muslim violence and vandalism in 2015 than in any year since the 9/11 attacks. And a report from the Council on American-Islamic Relations found 78 instances in 2015 where mosques were targeted for vandalism, arson and other types of destruction ― quadruple the number from the year before.

HuffPost has recorded more than 260 acts of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and political speech in the United States so far in 2016.

“It’s just really alarming to see that no matter how many times we publicly talk about these incidents, there still doesn’t seem to be an end in sight,” said Madihha Ahussain, a staff attorney at Muslim Advocates. “And we aren’t able to sort of change the way we’re talking about this. There needs to be some sort of action, like a large-scale solution to this problem.” 

Harb thinks there’s a small-scale solution, too. 

“One of the most important facts about Islamophobia to keep in mind is that most people who think all Muslims are terrorists have never met a Muslim,” he said. Sixty-three percent of Americans, in fact, don’t know any Muslims personally, a 2014 poll found.  

“There’s a starting point for all of us,” Harb said. “Before you allow yourself to hate all Muslims and buy into conspiracy theories about ‘Islamic radical terrorism’ peddled by the Trumps of the world, make a small effort to meet a Muslim and ask a question.”

Eid al-Adha ends this Thursday. “Eid Mubarak,” a common Arabic greeting during the holiday, means “have a blessed celebration.”

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