About 5,000 mourners attended Wednesday’s funeral of a Muslim girl whose beating to death, blamed by police on a motorist’s road rage, has some people in her community fearing for their safety.
Some wearing Islamic robes, others in street clothes, they left their cars as traffic overflowed and walked more than a mile to reach her mosque.
Nabra Hassanen, 17, was remembered as a shining example of kindness and openness during the services.
“There is nothing like losing a child, especially in the way that we lost Nabra,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, the religious leader of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. He stood before Hassanen’s coffin, covered by a black shroud decorated with quotes from the Quran.
Police said Hassanen was bludgeoned with a baseball bat early Sunday by a motorist who drove up to about 15 Muslim teenagers as they walked or bicycled along a road. Police said the driver became enraged after exchanging words with a boy in the group. A Hassanen family spokesman said the girls in the group were wearing Muslim headscarves and robes.
Magid said he sought to comfort the victim’s mother by telling her that a person who dies in such a manner will enter paradise with no questions asked.
He acknowledged that the slaying has people grieving and fearful, but he praised the many people who turned out “in a fever” to search for the teen before police discovered her body Sunday afternoon.
An overflow area at the funeral was itself overflowing with people who came to show their solidarity. The crowd overwhelmed suburban traffic, and cars jammed into neighborhood streets more than a mile away to park.
Most mourners were Muslim, but Christians and Jews attended as well. The ADAMS Center, one of the largest mosques in the country, has a long history of interfaith outreach and activism, and ADAMS board chair Rizwan Jaka said there has been “just a tremendous outpouring of support” from people of all faiths.
Lamia Sarver of McLean said she does not usually attend ADAMS but wanted to support the Hassanen family. She said the tragedy hits home because she has a daughter Nabra’s age.
“It’s kind of scary what’s happening,” she said.
She said she has told her own teenage daughter not to attend late-night Ramadan prayers and services with friends, so she won’t be a target. “’Pray at home,’ I tell her.”
Others expressed similar sentiments.
“I have two daughters. He has two sisters,” said Zahid Hassan of Fairfax, who attended services with his son Yasin, and choked back tears as he spoke. “It could have been anybody.”
Shahnaz Aurazaki of Sterling said she lived in the area for 32 years, and it was always safe, but “now every day you see something on the news. It’s scary.
“We came because something very bad happened. We are upset. Our children are not safe,” she said.
Lena Masri, national litigation director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement that CAIR is representing Hassanen’s family and “will monitor the development of the investigation to ensure a thorough examination of any possible bias aspects of the case.”
Police said they are continuing to investigate, but so far they have found no evidence pointing to a hate crime by Darwin Martinez Torres, a 22-year-old from El Salvador suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. He’s being held without bail on a second-degree murder charge.
In Virginia, hate crime charges can apply when a victim is targeted because of her religion, among other things. Fairfax County police said Martinez Torres chased the youngsters with a baseball bat, catching up with Hassanen and beating her after her friends had scattered. Then, they say, he put her in his car, assaulted her again and dumped her body in a pond.
Some Islamic leaders remain skeptical Hassanen’s religion and appearance weren’t a factor.
“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, he didn’t say anything against Islam, so no hate crime,’” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said.
Joshua Salaam, the ADAMS Center’s chaplain, told a press conference Tuesday that the mosque has faith in the police investigation.
At the same time, he said there are people in the Muslim community who are less concerned with the legalities of what constitutes a hate crime and have a more visceral reaction.
“We have people who may feel this is a hate crime, and we’re dealing with that,” he said.
May Allah have mercy on her soul