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Owning a Gun While Muslim

Owning a Gun While Muslim

Source: The New York Times

A small number of American Muslims are buying guns as they worry about their safety.

At a time when hate crimes against the Muslim community have soared to their highest levels since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a small but growing number of American Muslims are buying guns as they worry about their safety.

You can read and listen to their stories here.

We asked Amr Alfiky, an Egyptian documentary photographer and filmmaker, who spent days with Muslim gun owners in Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia, about his experience.

Why did you decide to pursue gun culture in the Muslim community?

The Parkland shooting ignited a large conversation around gun control. I noticed that the majority of the debate centered the voices of this country’s most powerful: white men. For this reason, I tried to shed a light on a group that has not involved themselves in the gun debate, but have existed within it, unheard and dismissed; Muslim gun owners in the United States are often marginalized and have faced hate and discrimination.

I tried to explore what it means to own a gun when you’re Muslim by focusing on the voices of a marginalized group that has stereotypically been seen as a violent threat to the United States. I wanted to learn the reasons behind their ownership, their relationships with other Muslims and their weapons, and their views on gun control.

How did you find your subjects and pick the states?

I came across two major lawsuits that were filed against a gun range in Oklahoma and a gun store in Florida. Each declared itself to be a “Muslim-free Zone.” I tried to get in touch with all parties for a better understanding for both cases. That’s when I found out about two of the main subjects of the story: Hassan Shibly and Raja’ee Fatihah. They connected me with other Muslim gun owners. Other subjects came through my networks in the Muslim community.

I focused on regions where gun culture is more predominant. I believed that this juxtaposition would add important layers and nuances to the story.

Were you surprised by the stories they recounted and why?

No. As a Muslim immigrant myself, I was exposed to similar narratives while working on different projects on Islam in America. I have experienced similar stories firsthand.

What was the biggest takeaway?

I believe that the group of people I met had different reasons and motivations for owning guns, but they all shared pride in being Americans defending their Second Amendment rights. For most of them, guns emphasize their American identity and give them a sense of liberty.

Here are two of their stories:


Sheima Muhammad, 25, worked out at a gym in Columbus, Ohio.CreditAmr Alfiky for The New York Times

When Sheima Muhammad takes her Glock pistol to her local gun range in central Ohio, she gets funny looks. As a 25-year-old woman, she stands out from the other customers, who are mostly older men. Then there is the matter of her head scarf.

“I don’t get looked like as a normal person who’s just trying to protect themselves,” said Ms. Muhammad, who emigrated from Turkey as a baby with her family, who are Kurds, and is a naturalized American citizen.

Ms. Muhammad said she decided to buy a pistol after a frightening encounter with a stranger in the parking lot of the grocery store where she worked in Columbus.

“I just felt defenseless,” she recalled. “I did not feel like I could protect myself. It took a toll on me even until today. I’m overcautious, always watching my back.”

She goes to the gun range once a week.

“People stare at me and look me up and down, kind of like: ‘What are you doing owning a gun? We know what you people do with the guns,’” she said. “I walk into the place and I feel like an alien.”

Hassan Shibly, 32, played with his daughter at home in Tampa, Fla.CreditAmr Alfiky for The New York Times

Hassan Shibly, a son of Syrian immigrants, said he “became a handgun owner reluctantly.”

“It got to the point where people I know who are in law enforcement actually recommended that I take some means to make sure that I can protect myself and my family,” said Mr. Shibly, 32, who lives in Tampa.

Mr. Shibly, the executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national civil rights group, has received death threats because of his advocacy on behalf of Muslims, he said, and mosques he attends have also gotten threats.

“I’m not a reckless gun enthusiast,” he said. “I’m somebody who reluctantly owns these tools for purposes of self-defense, while recognizing the great burden they come with. They’re not simply for sports, or entertainment, or for culture.”

He owns two rifles, but has never had to fire them.

“We’re not gun owners because of Islam,” Mr. Shibly said. “We are gun owners because of the violence perpetrated in this country against minorities.”

He added: “The solution to the problems we face is not more violence, or even more guns. It is engagement, education, service, community organization, political involvement.”

To hear more voices of Muslim gun owners and to see Mr. Alfiky’s photographs, please see: ‘Make Sure Not to Talk Any Arabic’: American Muslims and Their Guns