Since the San Bernardino massacre this month and one presidential candidate’s suggestion that Muslims be banned from America, a number of hate crimes targeting those of the Islamic faith have occurred nationwide, including one involving an Astoria store owner.
On Thursday, local politicians and many Astoria residents gathered in front of Sarker Haque’s Fatima Food Mart, the scene of a hate crime, to celebrate the neighborhood’s diversity and denounce the rhetoric that has been dominating the news cycle.
“We are at a crossroad in this nation right now and we have a choice to make,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris. “We can listen to charlatans like Donald Trump who are stoking fear and anger or we can pay attention to the good Samaritans who came in to this store to help Mr. Haque who are not Muslim by the way, who are from this neighborhood.”
Haque, 52, was punched repeatedly in his store on Saturday and suffered a lacerated lip, bruises and swelling to his face. His attacker shouted “I kill Muslims” as he carried out the beating.
Astoria residents quickly rallied around Haque by creating a Facebook group and a hashtag #standwithsarker to encourage others to shop at Fatima Food Mart and to make cards and posters for the store owner. Haque noted that he began to lose his voice yesterday after talking to so many residents who visited his store.
“I’m very happy,” Haque said through tears. “All these people … I don’t expect you guys behind me. I’m so happy.”
Haque emigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S. when he was 21. He’s lived in the community for more than 30 years and has owned Fatima Food Mart for 16 years. His five children attend local public schools, including Stuyvesant High School, a college preparatory school focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.
“I am proud of this country,” Haque said. “That’s why I’m here. This country gave me everything.”
Ahmed Jamil, president of the Muslim-American Society, said that the hate of Muslim-Americans is at an all time high and that the Muslim-American community, especially children, are fearful. Jamil noted that people with traditional Muslim names like Mohammed are shortening their names to “Mo.” He also condemned the words of politicians who he said are encouraging hate.
“Why do we have fear to reveal the names in the United States, in America, in Queens?” Jamil said. “We should not allow that. Those people, I don’t want to mention the name, those people who feed the machine of hatred and division, they should not call themselves leaders at all.”
Rindy Brandt, an Astoria resident for more than 20 years, attended the event with her children and is one of my many Astoria residents who has visited Haque to show support by shopping at Fatima Food Mart and sharing words of encouragement.
“Our community is very diverse and we celebrate that diversity and I was shocked when I heard that this could happen here,” Brandt said. “I wanted to show the community, the city, the country, the world that that’s not ok here or anywhere. [Haque has] always been there. He’s a nice, hard-working man and just that anybody would go in and beat up anybody is unacceptable.”
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, Councilman Costa Constantinides, state Senator Jose Peralta and Public Advocate Letitia James also attended the event to denounce the attack.
“Mr. Haque is a true American story,” Constantinides said. “He came to this country, he opened a small business and he’s given back to this community.”
Sadyia Khalique, director of operations at the Council on American-Islamic Relations encouraged all Muslims who are victims of hate crimes to contact her office for help.