A Houston optometrist is in critical condition after being shot outside a city mosque on Sunday morning.
The Texas attack is at least the second against a Muslim over the holiday weekend. Muslim communities are worried about an increase in bias attacks as a result of rising Islamophobic sentiment in public discourse, but police officials question whether the men were targeted because of their faith.
Arslan Tajammul, the Texas victim, is a native of Alberta, Canada and graduated from Nova Southeastern University - College of Optometry, according to his Facebook page. He had long been active in the Muslim communities in Canada, Florida, and Texas.
The Madrasah Islamiah Masjid Noor imam, Mohammed Wasim Khan, posted a call for prayers on his Facebook page after the attack.
“Please do dua of Shifaa [prayer for healing] for my beloved student Dr. Arslan Tajammul who is going through surgery right now,” Khan posted from a local hospital. “I urge my Houston Muslims and Muslims in America in general to be vigilant and take necessary precautions.”
Khan added that others gathered at the mosque for morning prayers were able to immediately come to Tajammul’s aid.
“Such senselessness is unprecedented,” wrote Aziz Rahman, another member of the mosque. “He's a unique gem given to Houston, always organizing and inviting everyone to halaqas [Quran study] and the masjid - now being tested on such auspicious nights.”
Saturday marked Leilat al-Qadr, or the night of destiny. According to Islamic tradition, the day, which falls towards the end of Ramadan, is one of the holiest of the year, and is said to mark the day Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad.
Initial reports suggested that Tajammul was attacked by three assailants near the mosque. But a spokesman for the Houston Police Department cautioned that there was no indication of a hate crime motive yet.
"The initial information I have is that the victim was shot down the street, and he made it to the mosque, and that's where he transported from,” Victor Senties, the spokesman, told The Daily Beast.
“There is no hate crime nexus here at the time,” he added. “The preliminary indication is that this was a robbery attempt.”
But worshippers at the Madrasah Islamiah told ABC13 that the man was just trying to get to morning prayers at the mosque and that nothing was stolen.
"It is very scary right now given the current political climate," mosque spokesman Mohammed Imaduddin told the station.
"From what I hear, this is the third incident this week in the Houston area involving a Muslim getting shot. This is a community place, we have kids that come here, we have people young and old comes here."
On Saturday, another Muslim man was attacked outside the Fort Pierce Islamic Center, the mosque attended by Orlando nightclub terrorist Omar Mateen. Police found the victim bleeding from the mouth and put out an alert for the suspect’s vehicle.
The suspect was identified as 25-year-old Taylor Mazzanti, who was arrested and faces a felony battery charge. Mazzanti attended the same local community college as Mateen, according to Facebook.
There, too, police cautioned that there was no clearly identifiable hate motive.
“Interviews by the deputies and supervisors on scene and a written witness statement completed by the victim do not indicate any racially-motivated comments were made by the suspect prior to, during, or after the incident,” St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said in a statement.
Mascara added that the department is still investigating the case, but blasted “untruthful rhetoric” from the mosque about the motivation, which he said is “doing nothing more than trying to bring empathy to their cause.”
But the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the suspect said, “You Muslims need to get back to your country.”
The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce has accused the local sheriff’s office of failing to provide adequate security in the face of threats after Mateen killed 49 people in an attack on an Orlando gay club. The mosque condemned his actions, but said they have been repeatedly threatened since the attack.
In the days after the attack, the Islamic Center saw protesters, and some drivers by urged people to “burn it down.”
At the time, imam Syed Shafeeq Rahman told reporters that police said they were too busy to provide security. A Daily Beast reporter at the scene, however, saw a police officer on site to escort protesters off the mosque’s property.
After the Saturday attack, CAIR said it would be filing a complaint with the Department of Justice about the Sheriff’s office’s alleged refusal to provide the mosque with security after repeated threats. (The St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office did not return a request for comment on these allegations.)
“This should not have happened. For over two weeks, we have been emphasizing that the community from the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce needs to be offered security from the sheriff’s office,” said CAIR-Florida communications director Wilfredo Amr Ruiz. “Unfortunately, our requests were repeatedly ignored.”