When I saw the photo of a smiling 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen, my heart cried.
When I saw her bereaved mother, tears flowed down my face.
I was overcome with agony, grief and empathy.
In Nabra, I saw my daughter.
In her mother, I saw myself.
I cried out: “My God! Help this mother! Help her family!”
Nabra’s death is frustratingly tragic: she was beaten and killed early Father’s Day morning as she walked with a group of friends back to her Virginia mosque, after gathering at a nearby restaurant for suhoor (the meal Muslims share before beginning their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan).
According to published reports, Nabra and her friends were walking and riding bicycles – some were on the sidewalk and others were in the road – when an angry motorist drove up behind them and began arguing with a teen on a bike. The motorist drove his car over a curb, scattering the teens. In a nearby parking lot, he got out of his car and gave chase with a baseball bat. When the friends regrouped, they realized that Nabra was missing.
The motorist reportedly caught Nabra, struck her with the bat, placed her in his car and drove away. Her body was found hours later in a man-made pond a few miles away.
Police are describing Nabra’s death as an incident of road rage that escalated into deadly violence. Some, including her parents, are voicing skepticism and asking authorities to investigate Nabra’s murder as a possible hate crime (she was reportedly wearing an abaya and hijab).
Whether it was a hate crime or road rage, Nabra’s tragic death has raised unsettling questions about the role of Islamophobia in our society and whether we are seriously committed to doing something about it.
In a time when racially and religiously motivated tensions have fueled a dramatic increase in hate crimes, those of us who are committed to justice, equality and equity must step up, speak out, and take action to do what we can to end Islamophobia. (Statistics show that discrimination and bigotry against American Muslims is worse today than in the months following 9/11. FBI hate crime data shows a surge in the number of hate crimes nationwide, with attacks against Muslims increasing the most sharply).
We must refrain from and reject hateful rhetoric.
We must educate ourselves to gain a better understanding of our Muslim brothers and sisters and to distinguish the differences between culture and religion.
We must speak out against Islamophobia and stand in solidarity with people of the Islamic faith.
We must embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters.
We must recognize that Islamophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia all are fruits of the same tree of hate.
We must actively engage in re-framing the narrative to prevent more Islamophobia.
I believe that there are enough people of goodwill in the world to make things better – like the thousands of people
who participated in vigils nationwide and poured into the Virginia mosque to pay respects to Nabra and support her family.
Now is the time to make our world a better place!
“…violence is destroying us. You know, we’re seeing violence growing every day in our streets, in our homes, in our towns, in our cities, in the world itself. Everywhere we turn, we see violence and hate and prejudice and anger and all of these negative emotions that are destroying humanity. And we have to wake up and take note of this and try to change our course, so that we can create a world of peace and harmony….”
— Arun Gandhi