The Islamic community of Queens in New York City is still reeling from the tragic shooting deaths of an imam and his assistant, both of whom were shot in the head on Saturday in broad daylight by a gunman who remains at large. But as local Muslims struggle cope with what many see as an attack on their faith, some non-Muslims are reaching out with compassion, offering to walk beside their Muslim neighbors to and from the mosque.
People began expressing solidarity with the Queens Muslim community within hours of the shooting, voicing support for followers of Islam and decrying violence. Non-Muslims in New York City and across the country are now using the hashtag #IllWalkWithYou to offer to accompany Muslims on their way to worship, hoping to combat Islamophobia and mitigate any fear created by Saturday’s attack.
If any Muslim in Brooklyn would like company to get someplace and feel safe, #ILLWalkWithYou.
— Lorinda Chamberlain (@KittyLaRoo) August 15, 2016
#IllWalkWithYou because freedom of religion is for all religions
— L (@LisaSpeaking) August 14, 2016
— Rabbi Latz (@RavMABAY) August 14, 2016
No one in America should be afraid to practice any religion. #Illwalkwithyou in Minneapolis.
— Patty Lee (@pattyleetn) August 15, 2016
American Muslims outside of New York City also used the hashtag to express solidarity within their fellow Muslims, praising non-Muslims who want to help and calling for unity in a time of crisis.
— Stacy Kaiser (@SJ3starz) August 15, 2016
Although the exact motive of the shooting remains unclear, many see it as yet another instance of American Muslims being targeted simply because of their religious beliefs. Bolstered by ISIS-related terrorist attacks and anti-Muslim rhetoric from politicians such as Donald Trump, Islamophobic incidents have become frighteningly common in 2016: As of last week, ThinkProgress has tracked over 100 threats, assaults, protests, firings, airport profiling cases, and instances of vandalism perpetrated against American Muslims and their houses of worship.
The compassionate response on social media mirrors a similar movement that swept Australia in 2014. After an ISIS-linked gunman took hostages in Sydney before being killed by police, locals offered to ride with Australian Muslims on public transportation to help stave off an Islamophobic backlash that often accompanies terrorist attacks. The hashtag “#Illridewithyou” soon began trending globally on Twitter, and some Aussies taped the slogan on their clothing to signal their dedication to making trains, buses, and public spaces safe for Muslim neighbors.
The investigation into the NYC imam shooting is ongoing; the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is reportedly exploring possible religion-related motives for the attack, and police interviewed a “person of interest” in the case on Monday morning. Police are also investigating two recent attacks on rabbis in nearby Rockland: just days before the imam shooting, large fireworks were detonated under the cars of two Jewish faith leaders. Luckily, no one was injured in the explosions, but the Anti-Defamation League says they constitute a potential hate crime.