A sign reads ‘Love For All Hatred For None Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’ at the entrance to The Baitul Aman mosque at 410 Main St. in South Meriden, CT, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. Local authorities and the FBI are investigating a report of multiple shots fired at the building just hours after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The mosque was empty at the time of the incident and there were no injuries. | Dave Zajac / Record-Journal
MERIDEN — An act meant to invoke terror amongst Muslims, has instead promoted unity.
Members of the community attended an open prayer session Friday afternoon at Baitul Aman mosque in South Meriden. Religious groups, neighbors and local leaders attended, as did Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Early last Saturday, several bullets were fired into the mosque, 410 Main St., just hours after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
There were no injuries and the mosque was empty at the time. Local authorities and the FBI have uncovered a suspect in the incident.
Established in 2007, Baitul Aman is one of two mosques in the city. It is affiliated with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect of Islam created 126 years ago, said Hamid Malik, regional imam for the Ahmadiyya community.
“We are trying to serve humanity,” Malik told a group of about 50 people during a sermon at Baitul Aman Friday afternoon.
MERIDEN — On the same day Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited Baitul Aman mosque to offer support, a local official reassured the public that police have a suspect in the recent shooting that left the mosque’s wall riddled with bullet holes.
No one was injured in the shooting, which occurred sometime over the weekend that followed the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. The FBI was called in to investigate.
Kevin Scarpati, chairman of the city council’s public safety committee and mayor-elect, said Friday that police Chief Jeffry Cossette told him authorities have a suspect. Cossette could not be reached for comment, but the FBI issued a statement.
“As a result of our ongoing investigation, we believe that this was an isolated incident and there is no outstanding threat to the community associated with the shooting,” Marybeth Miklos, spokeswoman for the FBI in New Haven, said in a news release. “The criminal investigation into this incident is ongoing,”
When asked to confirm Scarpati’s statements, Miklos said, “We have no further comment beyond our released statement.”
Gov. Malloy visited the mosque Friday afternoon shortly after a prayer service.
“It’s a great honor to be with you, I wish it was under different circumstances,” Malloy said. “I just really wanted to pay my respects, tell you that I stand with you.”
Regional Imam Hamid Malik said there were not regular prayer services on Saturday, Nov. 14, because most members were in New York for the third annual “Holy Quran and Science” symposium.
When members returned to the mosque to pray Sunday evening, they found four bullet holes in the wall next to the prayer hall. One bullet had struck the mosque’s concrete foundation, two more traveled through an outer wall, and a fourth pierced both exterior walls and an interior partition. The shots were fired from the direction of Main Street.
Malloy told the mosque’s members that “right-thinking Americans don’t support this kind of behavior,” but “I think Americans also, particularly the most ignorant among us, tend not to understand even the most basic differences in Islam,” Malloy said. “Quite frankly, if you were present in Syria or Iraq, you would be potentially victims based on your beliefs.”
Baitul Aman mosque is part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, an Islamic sect founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889. Ghulam Ahmad instituted nonviolent “jihad of the pen,” and is considered to be the messiah by followers. But that belief is heresy to other Muslim sects who persecute Ahmadis, Imam Malik said.
Malik said his father’s cousin was one of 90 killed in an attack on Ahmadi mosques in Pakistan in 2010, and Pakistan and other countries openly condemn Ahmadis as not being true Muslims.
Mohammed Qureshi, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Connecticut, thanked local police who responded “within 15 minutes” Sunday and investigated through the night.
During Friday’s prayer service, Imam Malik recited a verse from the Quran that says whenever someone kills a person, “it shall be as if he had killed all of mankind.”
Following the service, Salaam Bhatti, deputy spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, encouraged members to resist the fear that the Islamic State group and domestic terrorists are trying to instill.
“Do not retreat into your homes. Do not lock the doors of your mosques. Because if you do that, you are letting the terrorists write the narrative of Islam,” Bhatti said.
Many Muslims who attend Baitul Aman mosque emigrated from across the globe, some as refugees and asylum-seekers.
Members thanked Malloy for his willingness to accept Syrian refugees in Connecticut. Malloy has been vocal in that recent debate, and outside the mosque, he said many who oppose gun control legislation after a mass shooting are the same politicians calling for Muslims to be listed on a national registry and for refugees to be kept out of the country.
“I think there’s this double standard, [a] sick double standard,” Malloy said.
He said government reports show people on the terrorism watch list were able to legally purchase firearms, and “the same governors who are saying we should stop people at state borders and national borders are the same governors who give in to the NRA and should take some amount of personal responsibility for 2,043 people who are on the American terrorism watch list, having allowed them to buy guns.”
Zainab Danquah, 31, of Manchester, came to the area from Ghana a year ago, and Ayesha Kusi, 48, of Waterbury, also moved from Ghana 12 years ago.
Both said they were shocked and afraid by the shooting at the mosque, and had not experienced anything like it in Ghana. But the fear had dissipated by the end of Friday’s service.
“I feel comfortable, I feel OK,” Danquah said.
Shihida Ahmad, 46, of North Haven, said the mosque brings members together from all over the state and as far away as Massachusetts.
“I felt like that bullet touched my heart,” after the shooting, said Ahmad, who is assistant president of the mosque’s women’s auxiliary.
But the support the mosque has received from the community, “means a lot, tears are coming from my eyes,” Ahmad said. “We got some pain and then this is the healing part … we’ll come here to pray no matter what happens.”
When asked what she would say to the gunman, Ahmad replied, “I would say come to our mosque and experience our love for all and hatred for none.”
Eamon Virk, 30, of West Hartford, said she felt it was important to attend Friday’s prayer service with her two children, ages 7 and 4. Virk is regional president of the women’s auxiliary and her husband is ESPN anchor Adnan Virk, the first Muslim host hired by that network.
Virk said she has not discussed the shooting with her children, and she was initially apprehensive about returning to the mosque.
But, “I said I’m going to take them. They need to see the support our community gives to us,” Virk said. “Today I think everybody showed solidarity and came together.”
Baitul Aman mosque is holding an open house for the public Saturday, Nov. 21, from 2 to 4 p.m. The mosque is at 410 Main St. in Meriden.