Despite Hateful Rhetoric, Muslim Leaders Urge Community Against Living in Fear

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It was around 5:30 a.m. Sunday when Dr. Arslan Tajammul left his car for the mosque to pray, when he was shot. 

Police say he was in a parking lot near the southwest Houston Madrasah Islamiah mosque when the armed man and others attacked and robbed him. Thirty-year-old Tajammul was taken to Ben Taub Hospital shortly after, where he is recovering.

Police have not identified any motive in the crime — and that's partly why Tajammul's wife and various faith leaders called a press conference Monday outside the hospital, to ask the community not to jump to conclusions in thinking this was an anti-Muslim hate crime.

The Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations also called for increased security measures at mosques and at today's end-of-Ramadan holy celebration, Eid Al Fitr, which will take place at NRG Stadium.

In an interview Tuesday, Executive Director Mustafaa Carroll echoed those security concerns, and while he also reiterated there is no evidence to suggest this was a hate crime, he said it's understandable why the Muslim community would be, on first look, concerned that it was. Given the current political climate, he said, any news of an attack on a Muslim man outside of a mosque is sure to shake the community.

"People are afraid when they hear that someone got shot. I'm not sure that the reason really matters," he said. "But it does matter in the sense that we've seen an increase or a spike in hate incidents across the country. So when you factor all those other things in, then you're really concerned that hate speech is actually having ascendancy, and it's having it not just in the underbelly of society, but in high places, like in Congress."

Carroll said that CAIR has seen a dramatic increase in discrimination complaints at its office this year, particularly related to the workplace. While on average CAIR would receive 80 discrimination complaints a year, Carroll says the organization has already received well over 200 already this year. He believes the jump in complaints is the result of a combination of hiring a lawyer to handle the cases and the rhetoric spewed about Muslims in public: conflating them with radical terrorists and calling for surveillance on them within their communities, as presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has suggested various times.

On the local political level, Carroll pointed to the time a city councilman's "director of community outreach," Trebor Gordon, said at a local GOP meeting that he wanted to block a Muslim man from joining the Republican Party because he didn't think Islam was a real religion. (Yeah, he was fired.)

But Carroll and MJ Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, who will lead today's Eid Al Fitr prayer at NRG, said they frequently remind the community that rhetoric is just that, and it should not influence the way Muslims go about their daily lives.

Khan, pointing to the times a woman wearing a hijab and a Muslim man with a beard were taunted for their faith in Houston, conceded that it may not be "the best of times for the Muslim community," but said he would never want isolated incidents such as the shooting near the mosque or Gordon's ignorance to instill fear among Muslims.

That's why, Khan said, he opposes stationing security guards, for example, outside the mosques.

"We have to have some commonsense security measures, but mosques are not fortresses," he said. "They're places of worship, and they should be open to all."

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