The imam at Christchurch began the second half of his sermon with these simple words: “Islamophobia kills.”
Imam Gamal Fouda saw it kill his congregants a week before, and he was almost killed by it himself, literally. The youngest victim in his congregation was 3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim. He was a loving, playful, energetic young boy. He probably had no idea why someone would hate him enough to kill him just for existing. His body was the smallest, yet the heaviest to bury. His grave was indistinguishable from those of the adults after his burial. The terrorist that killed him saw no difference between him and the adults before he put the bullets in Mucaad that would lead to his burial among them. They were all just a bunch of Muslims who deserved to die because of their religious identity.
When we hugged Mucaad’s dad, Aden, he told us that he hoped the world would not see the hatred of Islamophobia but the love of Islam through this tragedy. He refused to accept the idea that his 3-year-old son was killed for no reason. While the tributes poured in about the contributions and amazing lives of the adults murdered in that terrorist attack, Mucaad never had a chance to shine; his tribute was abbreviated, not natural. In the eyes of the terrorist, he was disposable and despicable. A threat to white civilization. A worthless Muslim.
Islamophobia kills. It renders every single one of us suspicious and the entirety of our religion precarious. When the president of the most powerful nation in the world says, “I think Islam hates us” and repeats a fake story of a general executing 49 Muslims with bullets dipped in pig blood to send them to hell, is anyone really surprised that a terrorist acted on his words and executed 50 Muslims in a mosque in New Zealand citing his name? The story about the general isn’t real. But the one about our commander in chief is. Ask the terrorists in Quebec and Christchurch who murdered Muslims in prayer citing President Trump’s words and example. To both 28-year-old white supremacist terrorists, Trump is the symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose. So Mucaad at the age of 3 or Haji Daoud Nabi at the age of 71 were both part of the common enemy in Christchurch. Haji Daoud greeted the terrorist with “Hello brother” but in the eyes of the terrorist he was no brother. He wasn’t even human. A worthless Muslim.
Islamophobia kills. It doesn’t just take our loved ones away from us with bullets, it robs those it spares of death of living a full life. As we prayed over Mohammed Haziq Tarmizi, 17, his father, who was wounded in the attack and left in a wheelchair, had a blank stare on his face. As we wheeled him over to the grave, we heard him shout “My son!” But he wasn’t talking about Mohammed. He was talking about his younger son, 12-year-old Hariz, who became disoriented and almost fell in the grave with his brother. That son was brought to sit in his father’s lap as we proceeded to bury the older brother’s remains. The child who was spared will not be included in the casualty count. But the families of these victims will never be the same.
Islamophobia kills. As I returned home this past Saturday to Texas, my family picked me up. My daughter, May, age 9, told me about how her school had a lockdown drill, and that all the kids thought the shooter from New Zealand had come to get them. May has been seeing armed white supremacists protesting in front of her mosque since she was 6. My son Abdullah, 6, was only 3 like Mucaad when he first saw them protesting with signs that said, “the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.” I no longer know what to say to my children. I hold them tighter tonight knowing that Mucaad Ibrahim could have been Abdullah, and I could have been Atta Elayyan, now dead at 33. That since the attack in New Zealand, British police investigated five attacks on mosques in one night, a mosque was burned down in California with a note referencing Christchurch and a mosque president in my home of Dallas told me the mosque on Friday received its third called-in bomb threat in six months.
I see the way Islamophobia kills — in more than one cruel cut. It kills literally, with the tiny casket I stood over this weekend. It kills by spooling out its trauma, to people like the 12-year-old who nearly fell into his brother’s grave. It kills by a society that isn’t urgently addressing the hate that allows my elementary schoolchildren to have to watch armed white supremacists stand in front of their place of worship. It kills by a president who actively peddles it to score cheap political points with no regard for the people he continues to put in harm’s way.
Islamophobia kills. And it’s getting worse. Those children in Christchurch didn’t deserve to die. My children in Texas don’t deserve to live in fear. Rest in peace Mucaad and Atta. Live in peace May and Abdullah.
Imam Omar Suleiman is the founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and an Islamic studies professor at Southern Methodist University. He flew last week to Christchurch, New Zealand, to help with the funerals of the dead.