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Shotgun attack raises fear for Muslims

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Police in Waldo County is investigating a possible motive for an apparent shotgun attack on a newly-installed sign for a Muslim business. A national Muslim advocacy group is calling on Maine law enforcement officials to investigate whether Islamophobia played a role in an alleged shooting of a newly built sign that took place Sunday at a Muslim family’s halal butchery business.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, sent a report Wednesday to the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office after being contacted by the owners of Five Pillars Butchery, Hussam Alrawi, and Kathryn Piper, asking that during their probe they try to determine whether the person acted with bias when shooting at the sign.

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“My family is terrified,” Alrawi said in an interview over the phone Wednesday afternoon. “My kids and my wife, we don’t know what’s going on.”

Alrawi, who is originally from Baghdad, Iraq, and is now a permanent resident of the United States, said that he built the sign himself, using lumber he had on hand and cutting letters out of insulation material. He had been waiting for several weeks for the snow to melt to put up the sign and decided Sunday was the right time. He worked on the project for most of the day. About an hour after Alrawi went into his home, where his business is located, and as he was sitting with his wife, Piper, and their two children, they heard a loud, strange noise outside. At the time they thought someone was setting off fireworks.

It wasn’t until Monday morning that Alrawi saw the eight holes in the sign from apparent gunshots.

“We’re not certain it was motivated by bias, but the timing is strange,” Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director, said over the phone Wednesday. “The wife wears an Islamic headscarf. I’m not aware of any other Muslim families in the area. It happened just an hour after he finished putting up the sign. All these things lead to the need to at least investigate the possibility that there was a bias motive.”

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Hooper added that he thinks this could be representative of what CAIR sees as an overall rise in Islamophobia nationwide since President Donald Trump began his 2016 campaign for the presidency.

A representative from the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office was not available Wednesday evening to answer questions about the incident. Alrawi said he called the police Monday when he discovered the bullet holes in the sign and that officers spent two hours at his home, taking pictures and talking with the family. Hooper said he had not yet received a response from the sheriff’s office Wednesday evening.

Alrawi said he is not sure whether he was targeted because of his faith, but if that is the case, this incident is the first time he has experienced Islamophobia directed at him and his family since he moved to the United States nearly two years ago.

The couple met and married about five years ago while Piper was teaching English abroad. Piper, who converted to Islam eight years ago, said her father’s family is from Maine and she spent summers here, swimming and rafting in the Kennebec River. For their first year in Maine, the couple and their children lived with her parents in Searsport before moving to Troy.

Prior to that, the couple visited the U.S. frequently but found it difficult to find halal — permissible — the meat quality in the area. About one year ago, Alrawi opened Five Pillars Butchery — a name that refers to the five pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca, the basic mandatory acts for those who practice the religion. Alrawi wanted to offer a quality product for the Muslim community and that any Mainer would be happy to put on the dinner table.

But now Alrawi said he is worried about his family’s safety in their community. “It’s not like a hate message that they sent; it was an actual shooting,” he said. “What would the next thing be? Maybe if I was out by the side of the road I would have been shot.”

Piper said in an email that the incident “breaks her heart” because it is not the Maine she knows, and she doesn’t want that image she holds of the state “to be tarnished by someone who has more hate and fear in their heart than they do love for their neighbors.”

“I want to stress that it wasn’t just an attack on our business sign. It was an attack on our home, a home with 2 children 3 years old and under. Almost every day my 3-year-old son says to me ‘nice house mama.’ I want him to always feel that way about our house, our community, and our country,” she said.

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Alwari said that the family hopes to speak with others in the community so that they can get to know them better and understand their culture. And despite the fear and anxiety that the incident has caused, the family of four will be sticking around. “After a couple hours (after the police left Sunday), I called the police and asked if I could fix (the sign) so I could send a message to the shooter that we are here and we’re staying.”

This latest attack comes on the heels of a Senate confirmation hearing of potential Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he was savaged by panelists for his Islamophobic statements. Many fear that the continuous influx of Islamophobic figures is legitimizing Islamophobia in right-wing circles at least. And this influx is resulting in violence against Muslims living in the West.

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