Mosque opens its doors wider

Mosque opens its doors wider
(Friday, November 20, 2015) 02:06

Leaders of the Baitul Aman mosque on Main Street in South Meriden say they are overwhelmed by the support they’ve received locally and from across the state after several bullets struck the mosque just hours after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Local authorities and the FBI began investigating after leaders of the Baitul Aman mosque, 410 Main St., arrived at the building Sunday night and found the bullet holes. There were several shots fired into the mosque, some penetrating three interior walls and areas where members usually gather for prayer. The mosque was empty at the time of the incident and no one was injured.

Mohammed Qureshi, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Connecticut, said the support the mosque has received after news of the incident broke on Tuesday has been “overwhelming and humbling.”

“It’s amazing,” he said. “The people of Meriden and Connecticut are smart. They know the difference between good people and bad people.”

Regarding the investigation, authorities have not provided any new information, Qureshi said. A spokesman for the FBI office in New Haven couldn’t be reached for comment.

Since Tuesday, religious leaders from across the state have called to offer their support, Qureshi said.

In response to the incident, he said, the mosque is opening its doors to the community. On Friday, the mosque will hold open prayer services at 1:30 p.m., he said. Another open service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday. People of all religious denominations are welcome.

Qureshi asked those who attend the prayer service Saturday to bring a turkey for a food and toy drive the same day at the South Meriden volunteer firehouse on Camp Street.

Salaam Bhatti, a spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said the mosque won’t back down.

“We’re not going to close the doors to the public,” he said. “We’re not going to shut our doors, lock them to keep ourselves safe ... we’re going to open them even wider now.”

Bhatti, who is based in Queens, New York, came to Meriden on Tuesday. He said the community has been supportive after the recent events.

“The community has been so helpful, full of love, friendly, ever since they’ve heard about what happened.” he said. “That shadows all the hate that’s happened through these bullet holes.”

Bhatti hopes to establish an even greater presence in the community.

“We want to do more outreach,” he said. “With the holes we see in this building, we haven’t done enough yet.”

Hamid Malik, imam of the region, invited the person responsible to a service.

“If the person would just come and join us for one of the congregations, would see how peaceful we are,” he said.

Malik refused to let the person responsible impact those who frequent the mosque.

“The purpose of any kind of terrorist activity is to divide,” Malik said. “That is something we will not let happen ... we will not let a person who has tried to shoot at our mosque divide us from the local community.”

Though such incidents are troubling, the Muslim community must move on, said Ahmed Bedir, founder and president of the Islamic Association of Southern Connecticut, a group of about 30 families that worship in a Victorian mansion at 189 E. Main St. The group was established in Meriden about five years ago.

“It is concerning of course,” Bedir said of the incident at the Baitul Aman mosque across town. “It’s not something that we expect from our community. But the people that know us in the community, they like us. We live in harmony with everyone.”

Though he is concerned, “we have to move on with our services and our worship,” he said. “We pray five times a day. This is not going to stop us.”

Bedir said he may hold an open house so that neighbors can learn more about the Muslim community in Meriden.

Muslims around the country are facing backlash after the attacks in Paris. Advocacy leaders say they come to expect some anti-Muslim sentiment following such attacks, but they now see a spike that seems notable.

“The picture is getting increasingly bleak,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There’s been an accumulation of anti-Islamic rhetoric in our lives and that I think has triggered these overt acts of violence and vandalism.”

Based on perceptions in the media, Bedir said, people think Muslims are affiliated with terrorist groups like ISIS.

“They’re absolutely against Islam,” he said of ISIS. “They’re completely against our beliefs. We condemn any acts of terrorism. We have values. A lot of people don’t understand Islam. When they think of Islam, they think of terrorism. It’s mind-boggling.”

At the University of Connecticut, authorities are investigating after the words “killed Paris” were discovered on Saturday written beneath an Egyptian student’s name on his dorm room door.

Muslim leaders also have reported recent vandalism, threats and other hate crimes targeting mosques in Nebraska, Florida, Texas, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, New York and other states.

Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, asked law enforcement officials to step up patrols at mosques and other Islamic institutions.

In a statement, Awad added, “We urge public officials and presidential candidates not to scapegoat American Muslims and not allow Islam to be demonized by Islamophobes or by the anti-Islamic actions or terrorists.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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