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Muslim Store Owner Harassed due to Ignorance

Hat tip: Halfwit

Photo that went viral is a big headache for store

By MOISES MENDOZA
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Sajid Master wants the phone calls and angry letters to stop. He wants people to quit coming into Perfume Planet in west Houston to yell at his workers. He’d especially like folks to stop castigating his landlord.

Nearly a year after the Internet painted Master as an Al Qaida sympathizer, outrage toward the store at the Harwin Central Mart shows no sign of waning.

“They’ve threatened to kill me; sometimes they’re cursing when they call,” a resigned Master said Thursday in his shop.

Trouble is, all the indignation is the product of a massive misunderstanding, illustrating the awesome — and sometimes damaging – power of the Internet.

Master, who describes himself as a proud American citizen, isn’t a terrorist sympathizer. He’s just a shopkeeper who inadvertently touched a very raw nerve.

It started when the Muslim merchant posted a sign at his shop during Ramadan explaining the store would be closed Sept. 11 to remember the death of Imam Ali, a sacred Muslim figure. Master failed, however, to explain that Ali, who is remembered on a different date each year during Ramadan, died in 661 A.D. and was in no way related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Someone snapped a picture of the sign and started sending it around online, claiming Imam Ali was one of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Before long the photo went viral, showing up on countless conservative Internet forums and prompting statements like this one that appeared at 2Aforum.com: “Picket, protest, and through lawful means, strangle their business.”

Soon the phone calls started, befuddling and overwhelming store manager Hasan Kolsawala, who tried to explain that no offense was intended.

Photo passed around

People also called Master’s cell phone to denounce him.

He probably could have shrugged off the incident as a temporary annoyance, but 10 months later the consequences of that sign still reverberate.

Phone calls to Perfume Planet often come in waves as people send around new e-mail chains urging recipients to voice their anger.

Giving explanations

Workers try to explain things.

“But some people don’t want to listen,” Kolsawala said. “They scream at me.”

Then there are the people who stomp into the store holding printouts of the infamous photo and demanding explanations.

And there are the countless angry letters flooding the shop’s mailbox. Master dutifully pens responses to each one.

Luckily for Master, some websites, like the popular snopes.com, have taken pity on him, dedicating space to debunking the controversy.

But that doesn’t seem to have done much good.

The parade of phone calls keeps coming, not only to the shop but to the management of Harwin Central Mart, the mall that houses Master’s business.

Myong Yi, the mall’s manager, said he’s almost at his breaking point.

“Sometimes I want to just kick him out,” he said. “I get at least one or two calls each day. I want it to stop.”

This year, Perfume Planet will close to commemorate Imam Ali’s death in early September.

But the sign will be different, Kolsawala said.

“It’ll just say, ‘We’re closed today,’ ” he said.

moises.mendoza@chron.com

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  • Sam

    I was reading about this earlier about Muslims in the South and what inspires them to come to those regions of America. http://honeybrownblues.com/?p=161 I’d rather live in El Salvador than Texas myself. To me that seems like the cause of the problem.

  • Muslim

    Ignorance leads to HATE – same as it ever was.

    However, what are the responsible civic authorities doing in order, not to stop the hysterical, easily manipulated misguided idiots, but those calculating loons who deliberately & systematically peddle hateful slander?

  • skunx

    people are lame and ignorant…

  • Valerie

    He is a shia muslim and they do celebrate the death of Ali as do some muslims celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad sallahu alahi wa salam. I do not agree that this is an acceptable practice, but he is the owner of the store and if he wants to close his store and inform the public of the reason…. I don’t see why he couldn’t… For that matter… If he had been a nonmuslim/nonarab and put a sign in the window “Closed for 9/11” no one would of said anything… I think that this is the point. We need to stop having one sided views, and stop judging people by what WE think of them and start viewing them. imho this is just further proof “Freedom of Religion” has become just an idea of the past.

  • Hassan

    *Commemorate the death OF Imam Ali

  • Hassan

    Jj, while the tenants of Islam are the same worldwide, there are differences in commemorative days and ritual between Sunnism and the various forms of shi’ism. Shi’a commemorate many events, including the martyrdom of Imam Hussein on Ashura. Imam Ali is the Prophet’s cousin Ali Ibn Abu Talib, around whom the “Shi’a Ali” from Persia first rallied. Their belief in leadership of the prophet’s family lead over time to a split away from those who disagreed; first politically, then in specific rituals, and finally in doctrine.

    It’s not unusual for a Shi’a to commemorate the death or Imam Ali

  • http://Huh? Jj

    Why was he closing the store in the first place? Muslims don’t commemorate the death of anyone… Not even the prophet saws himself….

  • mindy1

    I hope no one was offended by my first comment, I was not trying to say anything, I am just looking for a compromise

  • http://www.mystic444.wordpress.com Stephen G. Parker

    Once one of those ‘chain letters’ gets going on the Internet, I guess it’s impossible to stop. I’ve learned that pretty near any ‘letter’ full of “righteous indignation” is probably full of half truths and lies also. My most recent blog article dealt with one of those letters – about President Obama’s cancellation of a prayer service at the White House (one is led to believe it was a cancellation of the National Day of Prayer) and his supposed joining a Muslim National Day of Prayer. The letter even showed a picture of Obama supposedly joining with Muslims in prayer at that Muslim Prayer Service on Capitol Hill – but it was actually a picture taken in Istanbul, Turkey of the President taking off his shoes before entering the ‘Blue Mosque’ there. I wish there was a way to get people to ‘wake up’ and check those letters out (like with Snopes) before acting on them.

    Sometimes those letters can have a quite different effect than the authors wish. It was such a letter by a Christian Prison Minister, affirming that the Qur’an calls on Muslims to kill all infidels, which got me started in researching Islam – to prove or disprove the claims of the letter. Naturally, they were easily disproven. Unfortunately, those letters don’t seem to usually have that effect. Would that more people had the common sense (and just plain decency) to verify them before acting.

  • Abdulmajid

    Actually, the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, is decorated with the bones of local deceased which have been collected from former graves of the local cemetery for centuries. These bones were arranged as decorations only in 1870. Who invented that lie that these are the bones of Muslims slain by the Crusaders? In any case the chapel was built many centuries after the Crusades, in the 15th and 16th century. Stick to the facts, who spreads such stupid propaganda lies only harms the Muslims but not their enemies.

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  • http://the-student-view.blogspot.com Shafiq

    Mindy, I appreciate the comment, but I don’t see how much more he could have explained it without ending up writing an essay. It takes no more than two minutes to do an internet search and check the names of the bombers.

    But then again, I’ve seen such ignorance and callous disregard of facts from Muslims too. I was recently sent a chain mail about a church in the Czech Republic made from the bones (true) of Muslims killed during the Crusades (false).

  • Khalid

    Too bad he did not foresee the ignorance of the populace. I mean come on when ever have any of the hijackers been known as “Imam Ali” ?

  • froger29

    Being born and raised in Houston, I can tell you the city is one of the most diverse in our country but at the same time it is one the most racist and bigoted. This is not the 1st time the chronicle ran a report on this exact same story however the ignorant rednecks that inhabit the city don’t care. It is in most Texan’s blood to hate non-white southern baptists…..That is just the way it is in the south.

  • Evan Harper

    Yes, I agree with Mindy1. Muslims (and really brown people in general) should, at all times, assume that their most mundane and inoffensive actions will be misinterpreted by crazy white people as signs of terrorist intentions, and act accordingly. This would be “most useful.”

  • mindy1

    Kind of sad, I do not condone the people harassing him, but when he closed his store, a sign that explained it would have been most useful, considering that the date of 9/11 touches a raw nerve

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