It’s not every day that we have a happy story involving religion, so buckle up and enjoy.
Last November 13, Ted A. Hakey Jr., of Meridan, Connecticut, drank himself into a place of darkness, angrily contemplating the evil that Islamic terrorists had just inflicted on hundreds of innocent Parisians.
It was two in the morning when the retired Marine committed a brazen and violent act himself: he grabbed a high-powered rifle and fired an unspecified number of rounds at the neighboring Baitul Aman mosque. Nobody was hurt, but there was glass damage and walls full of holes. It’s easy to imagine what the volley of bullets did to the peace of mind of neighbors and Muslim worshipers alike.
But in the meantime, his intended victims have something considerably better in store — namely, forgiveness and conciliation. That’s what they offered last Saturday afternoon, when a contrite Hakey, his wife in tow, visited the place on which he’d focused his hatred and made a tearful apology that included this insight:
“As a neighbor, I did have fears, but fear is always when you don’t know something. The unknown is what you are always afraid of. I wish I had come knocked on your door, and if I spent five minutes with you, it would have made all the difference in the world. And I didn’t do that. … I want to help you bridge that gap and help someone else not make the same mistake I did.”
The mosque’s motto is “Love for all, hatred for none,” so afterwards, the worshipers lined up to embrace Hakey and to tell him he was forgiven. Said Mohammed Qureshi, the president of the Meriden mosque,
“We all had tears, and words cannot express that. We will be better neighbors, and what was said … made a huge difference to us. We greeted and we hugged just like a Muslim neighbor. We know why he did what he did — because he never heard our message. We now see it in his heart and we see it in his eyes.”
Added another attendee,
“He is not just a shooter, but like a brother to us now.”
All of that is fantastic and hope-giving, and I don’t want to sully the loveliness of what happened. In the skeptic tradition that we try to honor here, though, two caveats are in order.
One is that Hakey’s prison sentence could very well be lessened by him making a show of his remorse. No doubt he knows this. Let’s hope he’s sincere.
Also, the Muslims who Hakey stupidly targeted belong to the Ahmadi sect, a famously gentle (and relatively tiny) faction of Islam. In Pakistan and elsewhere, Ahmadi Muslims are frequently assaulted and killed by Islamists who see them as mockers and heretics. Had Hakey attacked, say, a Sunni mosque, would this story have such a warm, glowy ending? I wouldn’t bet against it, but it’s quite a bit harder to imagine.
(Image via Shutterstock)