Disclaimer: We at Muslim Girl do not condone or excuse any acts of violence against the victims affected by this tragedy. This article is meant to highlight a vital issue in the media coverage of an attacker in light of rampant Islamophobia and racism — it is meant to engage and focus solely through that lens.
When I heard your name, I had to sit down and remind myself to breathe.
Abdul Razak Ali Artan.
Somali-American. Your family fled the civil war, much like mine.
Your story read like so many others before you, and that made it so much harder to read. You were not a bad person, Abdul Razak. The owner of the convenience store you frequented said you were kind and educated. Your former boss said you were a “good kid” and that she was stunned when she knew it was you. And I’m sure this morning all the people who knew you woke up with the same numbness.
May Allah (SWT) bestow his mercy on you. And I didn’t know you, but what I do know is that your story is similar to far too many young men who lost their way. And that tells me that we are failing as a community. And I see it happening every single day. We have failed you. We have failed those who feel isolated, those who are vulnerable and those who on the fringes of our community.
Often the ones who don’t fit into our “ideals” are shunned in our community and religious spaces. We isolate each other—by class, race, sexual orientation, and so many other things…and then we scratch our heads and ask ourselves how this could be happening? How the person you pray beside every jummah and shared dates with in Ramadan could do this?
But how many times are we going to ask the same questions, without looking at our problems? It’s happening, because we are allowing it to. How we treat each other in our community spaces, how we care for each other and about our collective wellbeing is the reason this happens. We let hatred into our spaces, and ask why people pull away and find solace in cults that accept them with open arms.
We do not have a “radical Islam” issue because radical Islam is an oxymoron. But we have an issue with whom we accept into our spaces and who we treat with dignity. Our spaces are often so full of racism, misogyny and bigotry that the only thing Islamic about them is the writing on the walls.
What happened after the Artan family came to the U.S.? Reports say he was born in a refugee camp, and came to the United States two years ago. And so I am asking, who has asked him about the trauma he encountered? You do not escape civil war without psychological trauma. Who welcomed the family? Who took them to counseling? Who made them feel welcome? We rally for refugees but what do we do for the refugees that are less “trendy?”
We saw an outpour of support for refugees in this last year. But did we treat refugees from all countries equally? I think we all know the answer to that.
This happened because we allowed it to happen. And the media will say that, but they will say it is because of radicalization and ISIS and other nonsense they chose to attribute to the mosque. We are responsible, but not for radicalization—for pushing people away and making them feel alone in a climate that is already so anti-Muslim. And a climate that would be even harder for Artan, a Black refugee. Because Muslims are not the only marginalized people being victimized, and to be both Black and Muslim is a struggle many in our masjids will never fully understand.
Artan will not be afforded the privilege of being seen as someone whose mental health suffered. Black men and Muslim men rarely are, and he was both.
We need to give him that. We need to understand his story. Understand the severe trauma and emotional suffering that would cause someone as kind and educated as Abdul Razak Ali Artan to commit murder.
We cannot fail one more person. We cannot allow one more family to experience this. If we do not take care of each other, if we do not advocate for each other, who will? Especially now.
There is a lot of work that we need to do in understanding.
We cannot marginalize one another further. We cannot let barriers and class and race divide who we afford kindness and compassion to. Media can play the narrative of terror, but we must afford our own the understanding of mental health. We need to talk about it.
Abdul Razak, I’m sorry we failed you, may Allah (SWT) forgive you of your sins and give peace to your family. Ameen.