Boston Muslims angry at focus on Tsarnaev brothers’ religion

Some Muslims in the city experienced hostility before the suspects were identified

 In this 2009 photo, Tamerlan Tsarnaev fights during the 2009 Golden Gloves National Boxing Tournament at the Salt Palace. Photograph: AP Photo

In this 2009 photo, Tamerlan Tsarnaev fights during the 2009 Golden Gloves National Boxing Tournament at the Salt Palace. Photograph: AP Photo


In the Roxbury neighbourhood of Boston, Jasmine Mays walks out of the Mosque for the Praising of Allah on Shawmut Avenue, one of the oldest places of Islamic worship in the city.

Days before the identities of the suspects in last Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings, Muslim Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were released, she says Muslims were already being targeted.

A friend of the 23-year-old woman was, like her, wearing a traditional hijab scarf when she was verbally attacked while shopping shortly after the bombings that killed three and injured more than 170 people.

A shopper told her friend she should go back to where she came from. The friend was an American, said Mays.

“I am an African-American. I was born here. I grew up here. My people helped make this country,” she said.

Devotion to Islam
Mays is angry that the media has highlighted Tamerlan’s devotion to Islam, suggesting this as a possible motive behind the actions of the suspected bomber who died following a shoot-out with police in the Watertown area near the city.

“In other crimes it is not mentioned that the person went to church the Sunday before, so why should they mention that someone is a devout Muslim?” she said.

“We don’t agree with what they did – our faith teaches us not to do that. Their crime should be on them and not on the Muslim community.”

In the same neighbourhood is the city’s biggest mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Centre.

Next door at the counter of Ashur Restaurant is 50-year old Abdul, who declines to give his surname. He didn’t know the brothers and cautions people not to jump to conclusions; others may be involved, he says.

“They did not even practise as good Muslims,” he said. “If they were good Muslims, they would never have done that.”

Behind the restaurant’s counter Abdul Intl (28), who is originally from Morocco, says Muslims are taught to respect human life, not destroy it.

“If you kill one person, you kill all people – that is what Islam teaches you,” he says.

Shouted at imam
Tamerlan stood out at the mosque. The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that the 26-year-old was thrown out about three months ago after he shouted at the iman during Friday prayer.

The iman had praised the civil rights leader Martin Luther King jnr as an example of a man to emulate.

“You cannot mention this guy because he’s not a Muslim!” Tamerlan reportedly shouted.

After a turbulent week of bombings, car chases and shootings, Boston is still trying to come to understand the motives behind the violent acts allegedly committed by the two men who had lived in the city for more than a decade.

Questions will remain unanswered for some time given that surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, remains in a serious condition, two days after being found hiding out and badly wounded.

The 19-year-old university student, who was popular with students and teachers, is being watched by armed guards and is not yet in a condition to answer questions.

On Friday, standing outside Dzhokhar’s apartment on Norfolk Street in Cambridge, a neighbour, Albrecht Ammon, an 18-year-old student, said he knew him from the local high school and on one occasion when he met Tamerlan they argued. Ammon said the older brother had said during their heated exchange that “the Bible was a cheap copy of the Koran and in Afghanistan most casualties were innocent bystanders killed by US forces”.

The mystery around the motives of the brothers may lie in a six-month trip that Tamerlan took to his native Russia last year.

Failure to act
It emerged over the weekend that the Russian authorities had asked the FBI to investigate Tamerlan six months ago after he was seen meeting an Islamic militant six times but the bureau failed to act.

Russia’s security service contacted the FBI in November asking questions about the ethnic Chechen. Describing him as a “follower of radical Islam and a strong believer”, they said he had “changed drastically” since 2010 and was preparing to join “unspecified underground groups.”

Tamerlan’s father told the Wall Street Journal that he sat in on an FBI interview with his son, saying the investigators visited him for what they called “prevention activities.”

“They said: We know what sites you are on, we know where you are calling, we know everything about you,” Mr Tszarnaev told the newspaper. “Everything.”