The call that came during the wee hours of the morning of March 24 was from a man in Enfield. He said he wanted to burn the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford, using the n-word and other slurs against the members of the mosque that serves African-American, refugee, and immigrant Muslims.
Since then, as a part of a joint, ongoing investigation between the Hartford Police Department and the FBI, a suspect has been identified and questioned, but has not been arrested. That information was shared at a press conference at the Hartford mosque on Friday, with members of both law enforcement agencies, interfaith leaders, and elected officials present.
Imam Kashif Abdul-Karim was frustrated that he hadn’t received an update sooner.
“I wanted to find out what happened with our case,” Abdul-Karim said. “What was happening to the person who had given this great arson threat and who had gave this hate language to our community? I just think there’s double standards.”
The Imam’s secretary was on the other end of the line when the call came in. As news of the threat spread throughout the congregation, some members stopped coming because of safety concerns, including six Syrian refugee families whose children attend the masjid’s weekend school.
“These individuals are still scared of coming to the mosque because they tried to escape that stuff when they came to America,” said Abdul-Karim, “but America is not offering them any other protection either.”
Abdul-Karim mentioned the threat to state Sen. Saud Anwar (D-East Hartford), who brought it to the attention of the FBI. FBI Community Outreach Specialist Charlie Grady couldn’t name the suspect but tried to assure the congregation that they’re taking the threat seriously.
“The last thing we want to see happen is for us to miss something, ignore something and have a tragedy occur,” Grady said, “so we take this seriously as if it’s our own church, our own house of worship.”
The threat came a week after a mass shooting that killed 50 Muslim worshippers at two New Zealand mosques, and as multiple, mounting death threats are made against Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
“It’s not okay. It’s not a prank. It’s not funny,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said during the press conference. “Words have consequences. Words matter. Hate speech encourages hate violence.”
Three historically Black churches in Louisiana were burned earlier this month by a 21-year-old white man who’s now facing arson and hate crime charges. That the mosque serves African and African-American Muslims also underscores the complexity of being both Black and Muslim in America, contending with the dual threats of racism and Islamophobia.
“Being a Black Muslim is almost like the worst of both worlds,” said Saladin Hasan Jr., a former student of Abdul-Karim’s. “It’s hard out here being Black and it’s hard out here being a Muslim so to be both, to me—that’s the real threat.”
The mosque, originally known as Muhammad’s Temple No. 14, was established by Malcolm X in 1956. Race riots struck the streets of Hartford 50 years ago in 1969. Tension stemming from discrimination, police brutality and economic disparities still show up in Hartford’s communities of color today.
“I come to you mindful that your community has experienced a trauma through this threat that you’ve received,” said Rev. Josh Pollack with the Unitarian Universalist Society in Manchester. “And I know people with trauma, at the very least—it has an impact on you. It can make you not want to come to prayers. It can make you not want to bring your children for education. That’s just the reality. We’re coming her to say as members of the larger faith community in Connecticut that we’re with you. We see you.”