Hundreds of mourners gathered Friday at the Jamaica Muslim Center, a mosque in Queens, New York, to pay their respects to Nazma Khanam, the 60-year-old Bangladeshi woman stabbed to death in front of her 75-year-old husband just steps from their home in Jamaica Hills on Wednesday night. As family, friends and others — the victim’s nephew is a NYPD transit officer and dozens of police attended the funeral — said their goodbyes to the former schoolteacher, many members of the Muslim community said they were convinced the stabbing was a hate crime.
“They didn’t take her phone, pocketbook, bag, nothing,” nephew Mohammad Rahman told the New York Daily News outside the family’s home on Friday. “We feel this is a hate crime . . . We want justice.”
Khanam’s death comes just weeks after beloved Queens imam Maulama Aknojee and his assistant Thara Uddin, both also originally from Bangladesh, were executed in broad daylight as they walked home from prayers at the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque at 77th Street and Glemore Avenue. Oscar Morel, 35, of Brooklyn has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder — but not a hate crime — in connection with the killings.
NYPD officials said they had no leads in Khanam’s slaying as of Friday. Police are investigating whether the attack was an attempted robbery, although the victim’s relatives said nothing was stolen from her. NYPD investigators also initially believed the murders of Akonjee and Uddin were also attempted robberies. Neither man was robbed during or after the attack, although NYPD Deputy Inspector Henry Sautner said “there is nothing in the preliminary investigation that would indicate that they were targeted because of their faith” in the wake of the murders.
Investigators have been equally hesitant to speculate on whether Khanam’s murder was a hate crime. “Our best guess is it was a psycho,” a high-ranking police official toldthe New York Daily News on Friday. “He ran at her. There was no conversation. This is a hard one to explain.”
At Friday’s funeral, emotions ran high as speeches were interrupted by attendees chanting “we want justice!”
“This was not a robbery and though we do not know all the facts, the reality is this is happening too often,” public advocate Letitia James said to cheers.
In the same week as Akonjee and Uddin were murdered in Queens, 61-year-old Stanley Majors of Tulsa, Oklahoma was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after he shot and killed Khalid Jabara, 37, who was originally from Lebanon. Majors had allegedly harassed the Jabara family for years, calling them “filthy Lebanese”, “dirty Arabs” and “Moo-slems.” The Jabaras are actually Christians.
“That’s four murders in less than a few weeks, let alone the numerous hate crimes and assaults that have taken place throughout this country and much of Europe,” Khalid Latin, the executive director and chaplain for the Islamic Center at the New York University and the chaplain at the NYPD, told the Guardian. “Anti-Muslim sentiment is at an all-time high, and we will continue to hear news like this until those who have the ability to speak up and out will start to do so both with words and actions.”
According to research by Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, which tracks and analyzes Islamophobia in the United States, there were more hate crimes targeting Muslims in 2015 than in any other year since the Islamist terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Some observers have noted that the increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes has coincided with the rise of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has called for a total ban on Muslim immigration and travel to the United States. Numerous individuals wanted or arrested for committing anti-Muslim and other anti-immigrant hate crimes have cited their support for Trump or even said his name during assaults.
“Our data suggests that acts and threats of anti-Muslim violence increased in 2015, and that it has escalated further during the presidential election season,” Engy Abdelkader, a member of the US State Department Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group and the author of a recent Bridge Initiative report titled “When Islamophobia Turns Violent: The 2016 US Presidential Elections,” told the Intercept.
Back in New York, NYPD officials released surveillance video of a person of interest in the Khanam slaying and are offering up to a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer.