This Man Riddled their Mosque With Bullets, now They’re Forgiving Him*
By Jack Jenkins
Just hours after a series of deadly terrorist attacks struck Paris, France, on November 13, 2015, Ted A. Hakey Jr. slipped deeper and deeper into a drunken rage. Convinced that Muslims were inherently dangerous and overcome with anger, the inebriated Hakey — a retired Marine and resident of Meriden, Connecticut — snapped. At around 2:00 a.m., he grabbed one of his high-powered rifles, pointed it out the window at a nearby mosque, and squeezed off several shots.
Many of the bullets pierced the wall of the Baitul Iman “House of Peace” mosque, leaving holes just feet from where worshippers sat a few hours earlier reading the Qur’an. The chilling episode was the first in an unprecedented wave of anti-Islam incidents that swept the country in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, with an ever-growing number of Muslim Americans falling victim to harassment, threats, and assaults on their houses of worship.
But if Hakey’s attack set in motion a rash of anti-Muslim violence and negativity, he and members of the Meridian Muslim community are hoping to usher in a second, stronger movement rooted in something very different: forgiveness and reconciliation between American Muslims and their neighbours.
After the shooting, police officers quickly arrested and charged Hakey with intentional destruction of religious property, which is classified as a federal hate crime. But soon after discovering evidence of the shooting, officials at the Baitul Iman — a mosque affiliated with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a subset of Islam that believes that a messiah has already come — offered their forgiveness to the then-unnamed shooter. When Baitul Iman outreach director Zahir Muhammad Mannan and others learned that the shooter lived next to their worship community, they were shocked — but remained focused on what they could do to be closer to their neighbours in the future.
“When we heard that it was our neighbour, we said, ‘Where did we go wrong, not reaching out to our neighbours properly?’” Mannan told ThinkProgress.
Months later, Mannan and others got a chance to ask Hakey themselves. Hate crime cases usually involve strict separation between victims and alleged perpetrators, but the judge in Hakey’s case granted him the unusual concession of allowing him to visit with mosque officials to apologize. He, along with officer escorts, met with four leaders of the community last week, including Mannan.
“[Hakey] was tearing up,” Mannan told ThinkProgress.
“He actually cried and said ‘I hope you can forgive me I hope God can forgive me.’ It was a very emotional meeting. It brought us to tears.”
Mannan said he and the other representatives responded to Hakey’s apology with repeated offers of forgiveness. He explained their focus on absolution — not retribution or resentment — stems from their Muslim faith, and while some Quranic verses emphasize something akin to the Christian Bible’s concept of an ‘eye for an eye,’ forgiveness is always the superior option in Islam.
“[The Qur’an] says that if your forgiveness brings about reformation in the person, then forgiveness is better,” he said. “Reconciliation is better.”
At the end of the meeting, the leaders invited Hakey to deliver his apology to the mosque at a scheduled event on “True Islam,” part of a nationwide campaign launched by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community that seeks to combat both rising Islamophobia and rising extremism by forging interfaith dialogue. Haley accepted, and met with Mannan and 50 other mosque members this past Saturday to voice his formal apology, according to the Hartford Courant.
“I was drinking that night more than I probably should have been,” Hakey said, standing before the group.
“As a neighbour, I did have fears, but fear is always when you don’t know something. The unknown is what you are always afraid of. I wish I had come knocked on your door, and if I spent five minutes with you, it would have made all the difference in the world. And I didn’t do that.”
When Hakey finished, he and his wife were passionately embraced by several in attendance, many of them moved by his words. As the group gathered to pray at the close of the event, they offered to let Hakey step outside. But Hakey declined, choosing to stand next to the Muslims whose mosque he’d fired on months prior, bowing his head with them in silent prayer.
“It melted their hearts,” Mannan said. “He is not just a shooter, but like a brother to us now.”
The radical moment of forgiveness may not solve Hakey’s legal issues, of course. He pleaded guilty to firing on the mosque in February, and will face eight to 14 months in prison when he is sentenced by a federal judge in May.
Still, Mannan said the mosque would offer Hakey what support they could, guided by their faith and the their motto — “love for all and hatred for none.”
“The Qur’an says everybody deserves a second chance,” Mannan said.
“This is a personification of the real values of Islam. This is what real Islam is doing. It’s forgiving. It seeks to build bridges. It seeks to transform foes into friends.”