Muslims and guns: A community under threat considers its options

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n a recent afternoon Dr. Mohammad Shuayb, a Tampa-area dentist, brought a pistol to work with him for the first time.

Early that morning, his assistant had called him with a piece of ominous news: a woman called the office over the weekend and left an expletive-ridden rant decrying the doctor as a Muslim and claiming he was a supporter of ISIS. She called back and hung up several times after leaving the message.

“I said, ‘I feel like I’m just gonna put it on today,'” Dr. Shuayb, a Syrian-born American citizen and devout Muslim, told Fusion about the impact of the call. “It’s right here,” he said, grabbing at the pocket of his jeans. “Small, concealed.”

Guns have always been considered a weekend hobby for Dr. Shuayb, consisting of trips to the gun range with his seven sons and daughters. “Being an American, I practice my right to have a gun,” he said. But until now, he has been reluctant to exercise his permit to carry a concealed weapon.

At home with Dr. Shuayb, his family, and his guns.

“Look, if I’m gonna have to resort to that, as ugly as it is, I will to protect my home and whatnot,” Dr. Shuayb told Fusion on the day before he heard the voicemail. “I hate to believe I would have to start taking a gun everywhere with me. I do not want to see America like this.”

The overnight shift in the way Shuayb views his guns is indicative of a broader conversation about the right to bear arms playing out across the Tampa-area Muslim community, which, like other parts of the nation, has faced an unprecedented level of threats since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. At local mosques and around family dinner tables, these Muslim Americans say they fear for their safety and want to protect their families. At the same time, they’re reluctant to play into a stereotype that portrays Muslims as armed and dangerous.

“Right now I look like a total normal regular dude. They could confuse me for South American or Mexican or just dark old redneck,” Shuayb said on a recent trip to a gun range with his family. “My daughter, she’ll show up with her scarf around her head, and all of a sudden they’ll start looking at her from the corner of their eyes, like it’s a zombie apocalypse coming.”

“When we talk about these people who are afraid of us, it’s kind of ironic, because we’re the ones afraid,” said Shuayb’s daughter Sarah, 24-year-old dental student who wears a hijab.

Dr. Shuayb and his family visit a local run range.Daniel Rivero

Dr. Shuayb and his family visit a local run range.

Since the Paris attacks in November, the Florida chapter of the Council of Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil-rights group, has reported 22 separate anti-Muslim incidents to the police across the state, according to a spokesperson. Nationally, there have been 26 attacks on mosques over the same period, the group said. At the same time, presidential candidates and politicians have issued calls to ban Muslims from the country and increase surveillance of Americans who practice Islam.

“I don’t want to hurt anybody,” Shuayb said of his hesitation to carry. “I don’t want anybody to hurt me.”

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short drive from the Shuaybs’ home, in the tiny town of Inverness, a gun shop called Florida Gun Supply has declared itself a “Muslim Free Zone,” with owner Andy Hallinan vowing not to sell guns to any Muslims who might make “the hairs on the back of [his] neck stand.” “Muslim Free Zone” signs and shooting targets depicting the Prophet Muhammad are being sold at the shop, with some people driving hundreds of miles to make purchases.

Gun shop owner Andy Hallinan: “In order for us to be vindicated, lives have to be lost. That’s the unfortunate reality.”

Hallinan challenges the notion that Muslim Americans have a right to bear arms. “Citizens that are Muslims are not actually citizens of the United States. They’re citizens of the Prophet Muhammad and Sharia law,” he told Fusion on a recent visit to the shop. “They can claim Second Amendment all they want, but that’s not really what they believe in. They just wanna be able to have the same rights and things afforded to them.”

“I don’t think there should be Muslims in America. Not at all,” said Beth, a customer who declined to give her last name, adding that Muslims with American citizenship should not be allowed to own guns. “If they leave the country and they go over there and they train and they come back, even if they were born here, they may be true to their roots.

“If you’re Muslim, you’re Muslim,” she said.

The Inverness shop first declared itself “Muslim Free” earlier this year, following a shooting in Chattanooga, Tn., by a Kuwait-born man that left four Marines dead. Other gun shops around the country have followed Hallihan’s lead in refusing to sell guns to Muslims.

The policy was met with a lawsuit from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. A judge dismissed the suit, ruling that the group did not have standing to sue and that CAIR failed to prove “imminent injury to either the organization itself or to one of its members or constituents.”

“I cannot stop Islam from spreading, but what I can do is arm the population against it,” said Hallinan.

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“I’m

shooting you, and I’m killing you,” Nezar Hamze told a crowd of over 100 Muslims sprawled across the carpet of a mosque. He pointed two fake blue plastic guns at the attendees and their children. “Everyone is just looking at what I’m doing, and I’m still shooting you,” he yelled.

“I’m shooting you and I’m killing you”: A mosque’s active shooter training

Hamze, a Broward County Sheriff’s Office deputy, practicing Muslim, and regional operations director for CAIR, was leading an active shooter training for the Tampa-area Daarus Salaam Mosque. The goal: to help worshipers understand how they can better protect their loved ones and their mosque from Islamophobic shooters.

“When someone walks through that door, they don’t want to debate. They want to kill you,” Hamze explained. This year, 13 CAIR-sponsored active shooter trainings have been held in mosques across Florida, the only state to have done so, a CAIR representative said.

As part of a comprehensive safety plan, he urged mosque leaders to put together a safety and security council, consisting of members who have concealed carry permits who are on the site at all times. Attendees should also consider buying guns for themselves and their homes, he suggested.

A man in the crowd asked if being a Muslim gun owner might send the wrong message to the world, in a time where Muslims everywhere are acutely aware of being stereotyped as being violent.

“Are you gonna be more worried about that, or are you gonna be worried about protecting your family?” Hamze responded. “The minute we start thinking past that, we lose.”

The broader message Hamze was trying to get across was that Muslim-Americans need to step out of the “victim mentality,” and start using their rights to protect themselves—including the right to defend their loved ones by force if necessary—though he underscored the fact that guns should only be used defensively.

“This is the reality we’re living in right now,” Hamze said. “Everything is coming to a boiling point because we’re coming out into the open.”

After the presentation, Abida Saleh, who just a day earlier had expressed skepticism at her family buying a gun, said the training made her see guns in a different light. Her husband Bilah said he is still considering purchasing a gun, hinting that a purchase might be coming in the near future.

Just last week, a woman at the Daarus Salaam Mosque, where Bilal is a board member, was followed into the parking lot by a suspicious and aggressive man who told her and the Imam: “Somebody is going to get hurt tonight.”

The man left shortly after, and the incident was reported to authorities. “This is real. This is happening,” said Bilah.

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ack at his office, Shuayb had just finished playing the recording of the hateful call when the phone rang. In a nervous moment, everyone in the room wondered if it was the same woman. But after looking at the caller I.D., they realized it was a routine call from another customer.

“She needs help,” the doctor said of the woman who left the voice message. “She’s been poisoned.”

Gesturing towards his nearby dental assistants, he added: “I’ve been in this community since 1980. These girls know me. I’d put my life on the line for them.”

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