Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Liz Miller
Observer Staff Writer 

Imam and Assistant Shot Dead Saturday in NY; Witness Blames Trump

Alala Uddin Akongi and Thara Uddin were leaving prayer service


August 15, 2016

Empty sandals and a small cone mark the sight of today's shooting.

A Queens, NY Imam was shot in the head and his assistant was shot in the chest by an unknown gunman in broad daylight as they left prayer services at the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in Ozone Park.

Around 1:50 pm EST, the two men were walking together when a strange man approached them, pulled out a large handgun, and started firing. The shooter, who fled the scene, was described by witnesses as tall and dark-skinned, possibly Hispanic, wearing a dark blue shirt and short pants.

Emergency services rushed the victims to Jamaica Hospital.

Imam Alala Uddin Akongi, aged 55 and the married father of three, was pronounced dead on arrival. Akongi had been a revered religious leader since his arrival from Bangladesh about two years ago.

His assistant Thara Uddin, 64, died about four hours later at the hospital.

Congregants gathered outside the mosque to grieve.

"That's not what America is about," resident Khairul Islam said to the New York Daily News. "We blame Donald Trump for this...Trump and his drama has created Islamophobia."

"For no reason," said neighborhood resident and leader at a nearby mosque, Kobri Chowdhury. "He had finished his prayers...Somebody else with him. Just a pure, blind, hate crime."

Residents described the Imam as a pious and well-respected member of the local community.

His nephew, Rahi Majid, was stunned by the shooting.

"I'm not sure what kind of an animal would kill that man," he said. "He would not hurt a fly. You would watch him come down the street and watch the peace he brings."

Chowdhury described Akongi as "a very sweet, soft-spoken, humble man."

An Imam is an Islamic leadership position. Among Sunni Muslims, he may lead local prayer services, and provide general religious guidance to members of the community. Sunni is the largest religious denomination in the world, and includes majority populations in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

As contrast, among Shia Muslims, an Imam is considered to be free of sin and appointed by God. Among Shia, an Imam must be a member of the house of the prophet ahl al-Bayt, and is considered infallible. He should be obeyed without question. Shia make up the majority populations in Iran and Iraq, but only about 10% of the Muslim population of the world.

Imam Akongi and his daughter.

Sunni and Shia have a historical conflict somewhat similar to historical conflicts that have arisen between Catholicism and Protestantism.

While both groups base practices on the words and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, Shia are also guided by the wisdom of Muhammad's descendants through his son-in-law and cousin, Ali. In countries with a Sunni majority, Shia are often among the poorest residents, and generally feel persecuted. The Iranian revolution of 1979 overthrew a majority Sunni government and launched a radical Shia Islamist agenda against Sunni governments in neighboring countries.

Many westerners might be surprised to learn that the basis of much of the conflict in the Middle East had little to do with either Christianity or Judaism, but was instead a rebellion of Shia against Sunni.


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