MERIDEN — Muslim community leaders Saturday encouraged the person who shot at Baitul Aman mosque earlier this month to come there, be welcomed and be forgiven.
“We forgive him and invite him to our mosque to learn about us,” said Salaam Bhatti, deputy spokesman of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
“While we hope and pray he does not do these things again, we warmly welcome him to our mosque.”
More than 60 people attended an open house on Saturday afternoon at the mosque, located at 410 Main St. The open house follows incident in which someone fired into the walls of the mosque sometime after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. The mosque was empty at the time.
“We guarantee you will not find extremists coming from this mosque,” Bhatti said. “You are safe here.”
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. On Saturday, Bhatti said the FBI may have apprehended the suspect.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited the mosque Friday afternoon to pay his respects, and told members that he stood with them.
Mohammed Qureshi, president of the Connecticut chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said mosque members’ loyalty to the United States “takes precedence over everything else.”
“The purpose of the open house is to try to build bridges so you don’t fear us,” Qureshi said. “I always say that my religion, Islam, has been hijacked by these terrorists.”
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, spoke at the mosque against those who complete “atrocious, criminal, hateful acts” and said it was up to those in attendance to stand up for the true values of peace, respect and harmony.
“Clearly what you are doing, what we are doing here today by coming together, is what must happen, because fear comes often from ignorance, hatred starts from fear of the unknown and that is why it is so important we must start with our children,” Esty said. “We have a lot of work we need to do to make sure all of our children have a better understanding of this diverse and wonderful and beautiful world.”
Scarpati, who also spoke at Saturday’s open house, reminded attendees that the mosque members came to Meriden in 2007 and have always cared about being involved in the community.
The shooting was an isolated incident, he said, adding that he and other members of community stand with the mosque.
Regional Imam Hamid Malik said the community must unite against terrorists, such as the Islamic State. Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malik said returning violence for violence multiples violence.
“ISIS doesn’t represent Islam,” he said, “just as the person who shot at this mosque doesn’t represent Americans.”
Federal prosecutor, FBI reassure children after shots fired at South Meriden mosque
MERIDEN — Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarala Nagala and FBI Agent Mike Butsch fielded questions from about 30 of the youngest members of the Baitul Aman mosque Saturday in South Meriden.
Nagala had to chuckle when one child answered, “Mow the lawn?” when she asked if he knew what a prosecutor does. Butsch got a laugh out of the crowd, which included parents, when he revealed a hole in the heel of his green dress sock.
They were moments of light-heartedness in what had otherwise been a stressful and terrifying week for the mosque at 410 Main St whose motto is, “Love for All Hatred for None.”
Last Saturday, several bullets were fired into the empty mosque just hours after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Local authorities and the FBI have developed a suspect in the incident.
Leaders of the Baitul Aman mosque said they have been overwhelmed by the support they have received from the community. About 50 people, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, attended a special sermon Friday afternoon.
On Saturday, the mosque held an open house, which began with a question and answer period for the mosque’s youth group and women’s auxiliary club. The guest speakers included Nagala, Butsch, Patricia Ferrick, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Haven Division, Mayor-elect Kevin Scarpati and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th.
“Definitely, the kids were scared because they heard the mosque got fired on,” said Wajid Ahmed, president of the youth group. “We thought it was a great opportunity.”
Butsch described the FBI as “kind of like the national police operating under President Obama.”
“Our job, very simply, is to keep you safe,” he said. “Someone, maybe a bad guy, shot some holes in the mosque, which is a very scary thing, but I want you to know that once we found out about that we started working very, very hard on it.”
Ferrick also tried to ease the children’s fears.
“We don’t all think the same thing, we don’t all believe the same things, but everybody has a right to believe what they want to believe,” she said. “Our job is to keep you, and all the people who are different from you, safe from danger and harm. When people do bad things it’s our job to put them in jail. That’s what we hope to do. You guys can sleep easy knowing the FBI and the police are here to help you and protect you.”
Established in 2007, Baitul Aman is one of two mosques in Meriden. It is affiliated with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect of Islam created 126 years ago.
Hamid Malik, regional imam for the Ahmadiyya community, said people of all religious dominations were welcome at the open house.
“Individually, we are all flowers,” he said. “When we come together, we become a beautiful bouquet.”
The open house also featured a recitation of the Holy Quran, a video about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and remarks from Malik, mosque leaders, Esty, Scarpati, City Councilor Cathy Battista and Holly Wills, president of the Meriden Council of Neighborhoods.
“We want the neighbors to know what we do and what our beliefs are in Islam,” said Mohammed Qureshi, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Connecticut Chapter. “We believe Islam is a peaceful religion. We believe the terrorists have highjacked our religion and we want to it back from them. We want to reassure the neighborhood, the city of Meriden and the state of Connecticut that we are peaceful Muslims who are loyal to the United States and who want to do good in the community.”
Meriden residents Jeff Day and Sandy Duffy, members of the Unitarian Universalist Church on Paddock Avenue, were two of about 50 people who attended the open house.
“We’re trying to lend our support and make sure they know they’re welcome here,” Duffy said.