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Forgiving Muslim doctor whose mosque was shot at is attending State of the Union

Dr. Mohammad Quereshi (Courtesy: United Community & Family Services)

Among the guests sitting in the House chamber balcony for President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address will be a Connecticut Muslim doctor whose mosque was shot at the night of the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks.

Dr. Mohammed Qureshi, president of the Baitul Aman Mosque, is the invited guest of Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.).

The congressman knew Qureshi from his medical work at a center in his district that provides affordable care to low income families and the elderly. When Courtney read in a news account that the doctor’s mosque had been targeted, all the recent anti-Muslim rhetoric became intensely personal.

“It made the heightened anti-Muslim fervor out there even more despicable to me,” Courtney said. “This year obviously there’s this very ugly, nasty un-American rhetoric that can trigger not just insults and ideas about policies … but also trigger acts of violence. He is the perfect antidote.”

[American Muslims ‘grieve for the victims like any other human being,’ raise more than $170,000 for San Bernardino families]

On the Friday night of the Paris terror attacks, a man got drunk at a local bar. When the man arrived home he grabbed a semi-automatic rifle and fired several rounds in his yard, some in the direction of Qureshi’s mosque next door.

Though Ted Hackey, Jr. said he was not aiming for the mosque, a bullet landed in the prayer area. His Facebook page was filled with hateful rants, including: “All Muslims must die!!! I hate them all.” And, “Once a tipping point is reached the Muslims are [expletive]. Once we start playing Cowboys and Muslims it’s over!!”

Remarkably, Qureshi partially blamed himself for the man’s crime.

“I should have knocked on his door and introduced myself,” he said. “If he had known us he wouldn’t have had that hate. I should have tried to connect with him. Now we learned our lesson.”

He has since invited the community to the mosque to learn about Islam. After the San Bernardino attack, he held a vigil with Christians and Buddhists calling for peace in the world.

“It makes me feel we have to do a better job of reaching out and being more visible and doing more good,” he said. Every Sept. 11 his mosque holds a blood drive. Because Islamic extremists took American lives, “we as Americans are coming together to give our blood to save American lives,” he said.

A recent editorial in the Hartford Courant praised Qureshi’s benevolence.

“Dr. Qureshi’s handling of the whole situation, inviting the public to the mosque to pray for peace, illustrates why the idea of painting an entire religion with one brush is ridiculous,” an opinion editor wrote.

Qureshi practices a type of Islam called Ahmadiyya, a reform sect that believes the Messiah has already come. That man, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, taught that “jihad by the sword” is not Islam and advocated for the end of religious wars and bloodshed. Ahmadiyya believers have launched a “True Islam” campaign to distinguish the religion from extremism.

It highlights 11 principles that if all Muslims endorsed there would be no terrorism, Qureshi said. They include belief in nonviolent Jihad, human rights, and the understanding that “no religion can monopolize salvation.”

“It’s the antidote to ISIS,” he said. “ISIS causes so much destruction and killing … but Islam’s real message is peaceful.”

Democrats were encouraged to bring Muslim American guests to the State of the Union to send a similar message. At least 20 are planning to, according to a Democratic aide. And the White House has invited Refaai Hamo, the Syrian refugee profiled by Humans of New York last month before he moved to Michigan, to sit with First Lady Michelle Obama during the address. President Obama posted a welcome note to him on Facebook last month, writing, “You’re part of what makes America great.”

Qureshi, born in England and a medical student in Pakistan, said attending the president’s speech was “beyond my imagination.” He hopes to hear Obama say that all citizens of the United States, regardless of religion, are Americans who share the same concerns for their children, for their friends and for their country.

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The first lady is bringing 23 Americans to President Obama's last State of the Union address. Here are four who you should know. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)