Reflections on the Murders in New Mexico & Anti-Shia Hatred

Imam Khalid Latif NYU


The horrific news that the 4 Muslim men murdered in New Mexico recently were killed in an act of anti-Shia hate should impact all of us.

Aftab Hussein, 41, and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, were killed on July 26th and August 1st respectively. Naeem Hussain, 25, was killed on Friday night.  Earlier that same day he had attended the funeral prayers of the other two.  In November, Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was killed.

The factors that contribute to realities like this should be understood by all of us, but in particular those of us who identify as Sunni Muslim have more of a responsibility to understand than anyone else.

There are some of us who will post messages of support and solidarity in the aftermath of a tragedy like this one, but that solidarity in large part will be performative at best.  There are many of us who won’t even bother to say something that is performative, and that will range from many well-known Sunni leaders and scholars to everyday people.

Our decisions and choices won’t demonstrate a recognition of the privilege that we hold in comparison to our Shia brothers and sisters. We won’t take a pause to reflect on how so many of us contribute to their marginalization and persecution in various parts of the world by failing to speak out against demeaning rhetoric in many of our mosques that lays the groundwork for mistreatment and oppression.  We’ll buy into polemics that are purposely constructed by those with geopolitical interests that want us to dehumanize the Shia community and be indifferent towards the violence they experience at the hands of no one other than members of the Sunni community.

I remember the first time I met a young Shia man who was scared to enter our Islamic Center at NYU.  He was in the United States as an asylum seeker – his family members had all been killed in Pakistan because they were Shia.  He spent numerous years of his life pretending to be Sunni out of fear that he too would be killed.  I did my best to tell him that he could come into our space as he was and not have to be anything else.  If not for Shaykh Faiyaz Jaffer, my spiritual brother and a trained Shia scholar who is on our Islamic Center at NYU’s staff, and the assurance that he offered this young man, I don’t think he would have entered. Why is that an acceptable thing?

Why is it acceptable that most college MSAs are spaces that cater only to Sunni Muslims?  Why is it acceptable that the default Islam taught in most non-Muslim curricula, ie elementary schools, interfaith gatherings, etc. is Sunni “5 Pillars” Islam?  Why is it acceptable that pulpits across the Sunni world spew sermons unchecked filled with demonizing stereotypes and we advance narratives that breed divisiveness and hatred? It’s not acceptable.  And all of it brings us to experiences like what we have seen just take place in New Mexico.

People ask me what it’s like to serve a community that is made up of both Shia and Sunni Muslims.  You have to understand, no one needs my permission to be who they are.  I know definitively that my community is stronger and better because of our diversity.  I’m not saying every Sunni masjid and Shia masjid in the country have to suddenly adopt each other’s practices – that’s a superficial understanding of unity.  We just have to be able to support each other better and a first step that I can think of as a Sunni Muslim man is to recognize the privilege I’m afforded and the space that I take up and how I can better demonstrate solidarity.

Ya Allah grant peace to our brothers Aftab Hussein, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, Naeem Hussain, and Mohammad Ahmadi and entrance into Jannah without any judgment.  Bring ease to the hearts of their loved ones and family members.  Help each of us to be the best of their supporters at this time and to do our part to obliterate hatred in all of it’s forms, including anti-Shia hatred, even if that means speaking out against those who are close to us.  Forgive us, yaa Rabb, and guide and bless us all.  Ameen.

I don’t normally ask people to share things but I believe this is an important message to share and spread.  Please do so and keep the victims of this senseless murder, their loved ones and all those impacted in your thoughts and prayers.

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