The shocking daytime murder of an imam and his assistant near the mosque where they prayed in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens last weekend was a tragedy for all New Yorkers, and deepened the fear of bias many American Muslims have in these days of political unrest.
Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, who came to this country three years ago, was known in the local Bangladeshi community as a man who preached peace. Whether or not his alleged assailant was motivated by religious hatred was unclear at press time. But the imam’s followers, and Muslims around the country, expressed concern that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s emphasis on distrust of Muslims has fostered a climate that can lead to violence.
In recent days, a number of political observers and pundits have compared the Trump campaign, with its warnings of terror from Muslim militants and implications that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, must be stopped from stacking the Supreme Court with liberal justices, to the charged atmosphere in Israel that led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in 1995.
A wide range of Jewish communal voices this week expressed outrage over the murders, sympathy for the victims’ families and empathy for frightened Muslims. Leaders of Jewish organizations asserted that people of all religions must be free to practice their faith and live without fear of violence. Fortunately, key Jewish groups have strong, longstanding relationships with a variety of religious and ethnic organizations in the community. A number of professional and lay officials of Jewish groups attended the imam’s funeral on Monday and met with his family. Bob Kaplan, director of the Center for Community Leadership of the Jewish Community Relations Council here, was among them. He told us that the JCRC has deep ties to local Muslim leaders and noted that he was welcomed warmly at the funeral by dozens of Muslim mourners. “We reached out to the family,” he said, “and we will reach out afterwards as well. We stay connected.”
The local Jewish and Muslim communities may differ sharply on foreign policy, but their joint efforts deal with shared interests like health care, education, and public safety. “We work together to build society,” Kaplan explained.
That is the most ethical and productive way to counter the hate that can tear us all apart.