Amazing grace: he got drunk and shot up their mosque, so the Muslim worshippers forgave him and asked him in
Ted Hakey, a former US Marine, knelt in prayer, his forehead on the floor, beside his Muslim neighbours inside their Connecticut mosque on Saturday. The enormity of that gesture was lost on no one.
It was only several months earlier, on the night of the terror attacks in Paris, when Hakey, 48, went to a local bar and downed 10 drinks. In the early morning, he went home, drank some more and loaded his 9mm handgun and an M14 rifle. He went into his yard and fired rounds at the side of the mosque next door in Meriden.
His Facebook page was laden with vile anti-Muslim hate speech. Text messages with friends, obtained by law enforcement, showed the same. In one post, he noted living next to a mosque and keeping watch on them with “binos” (presumably, binoculars). In another, he wrote, “Is Muslim season open yet? I’m in a target rich environment.”
But rather than hate him back, Dr Mohammed Qureshi, president of the Baitul Aman “House of Peace” Mosque, wished he had been a better neighbour by making an effort to get to know Hakey and his wife. Perhaps then, he reasoned, Hakey would not have harboured so much anger.
So, five months after Hakey’s bullets were found inside near the prayer area, Qureshi invited him to an event at the mosque, titled “True Islam and the Extremists.”
When the Hakeys arrived, the congregants welcomed them without judgement. Hakey tearfully apologised for the pain he caused them.
Hakey had asked his lawyer for the chance to apologise, so Qureshi and a few others had met with Hakey privately a week earlier on Good Friday. Qureshi, before even hearing the apology, brought Hakey chocolate Easter eggs as a gift.
“I’ve never had anything like this,” Qureshi said of that first meeting. “It was very emotional. He came in in tears, he was quivering. I could feel it in his heart and his eyes that he meant what he said. I felt like he was saying it from his heart. It’s a rare moment when you see someone with so much hate for you come and apologise.”
But some members of the congregation remained wary knowing a man lived next door who had wished them harm. Qureshi invited Hakey to come visit the mosque so he could show them he was sorry.
“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,” Hakey told them, according to the Hartford Courant, which covered the April 2 event. “Going forward I want to help you bridge that gap and help someone else not make the same mistake I did.”
Hakey, in an interview, said he was “so overwhelmed” by how graciously he was treated after what he had done. He said he’s now hearing from Muslims all over the world thanking him for coming forward to apologize.
“The forgiveness was so genuine,” he said. “I realised they were really good people and the whole way they handled it was above and beyond.”
His wife, Myra, who went with him, said she too was amazed by how warmly they were welcomed. She admitted that while she didn’t hold the same extreme feelings as her husband against Muslims, she too was uneducated and felt afraid.
“There were women crying and thanking me and said they were praying we would come,” she said. “There’s so much hate and these people just want peace.”
Qureshi’s mosque practices a type of Islam called Ahmadiyya, a reform sect that believes the Messiah has already come. That man, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, taught that “jihad by the sword” is not Islam and advocated for the end of religious wars and bloodshed. Ahmadiyya believers have launched a “True Islam” campaign to distinguish the religion from extremism.
It highlights 11 principles that if all Muslims endorsed there would be no terrorism, Qureshi said. They include belief in nonviolent Jihad, human rights, and the understanding that “no religion can monopolize salvation.”
This is the message he imparted to Hakey. In turn, Hakey promised to educate others.
In February, Hakey pleaded guilty to damaging religious property, which is a federal hate crime. He will be sentenced in May and faces up to 14 months in jail. Qureshi said his community will do its part to advocate for a lesser sentence.