Updated

Troy community rises to support Muslim family

Police exploring motives, including bias, after halal butchery business sign shot
By Emily Higginbotham, Morning Sentinel | Apr 12, 2018
After shots were fired at the sign advertising the butchery that Hussam Alrawi and his wife, Kathryn Piper, operate in Troy, they are worried about the safety of their family, which includes their son, Mohammad-Noor, 3, and daughter, AlThurayya, 15 months. Morning Sentinel contributed photo

Troy — There has been an outpouring of support for a family in Troy who may have been singled out because of their religion, including a "sizable donation" from another local business.

The benefactor, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he read about what happened at Five Pillars Butchery in Troy and was disappointed and saddened that someone might have targeted the family because of their faith.

“I wanted them to know that there are people around here who care that they’re here,” he said.

Hussam Al Rawi and Kathryn Piper, who own a halal butchery business, expressed their gratitude to the donor as well as to the many others who have come by their business, sent them emails or posted on the company’s Facebook page to show support.

“He said such beautiful supporting words,” Al Rawi said in an interview April 12. “It feels very comforting.”

Piper said support has come from people in the area and around the state.

“I really want people to know how grateful we are of the outreach and we truly appreciate everyone’s words of comfort,” she said. “We knew there would be support for us and we wanted to show whoever did this that they’re alone, not us.”

A national Muslim advocacy group last week called on Maine law enforcement officials to investigate whether Islamophobia played a role in an alleged shooting of a newly erected sign that took place Sunday, April 8, at a the family’s business, which is also their home.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, sent a report Wednesday, April 11, to the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office after being contacted by Al Rawi and Piper, asking that during their probe they try to determine whether the person acted with bias when shooting at the sign.

Al Rawi, who is originally from Baghdad, Iraq, and is now a permanent resident of the United States, said he built the sign himself, using lumber he had on hand and cutting letters out of insulation material. He had been waiting for several weeks for the snow to melt to put up the sign and decided Sunday was the right time. He worked on the project for most of the day. About an hour later, as he was sitting with Piper and their two children inside their home, they heard a loud, strange noise outside. At the time they thought someone was setting off fireworks.

It wasn’t until the next morning that Al Rawi saw the eight holes in the sign from apparent gunshots.

“We’re not certain it was motivated by bias, but the timing is strange,” Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director, said April 11. “The wife wears an Islamic head scarf. I’m not aware of any other Muslim families in the area. It happened just an hour after he finished putting up the sign. All these things lead to the need to at least investigate the possibility that there was a bias motive.”

Hooper added that he thinks this could be representative of what CAIR sees as an overall rise in Islamophobia nationwide since President Donald Trump began his 2016 campaign for the presidency.

Al Rawi said he called the police April 9 when he discovered the bullet holes in the sign and that officers spent two hours at his home, taking pictures and talking with the family.

The couple met and were married about five years ago while Piper was teaching English abroad. Piper, who converted to Islam eight years ago, said her father’s family is from Maine and she spent summers here, swimming and rafting in the Kennebec River. For their first year in Maine, the couple and their children lived with her parents in Searsport before moving to Troy. 

Al Rawi said he is not sure whether he was targeted because of his faith, but if that is the case, this incident is the first time he has experienced Islamophobia directed at him and his family since he moved to the United States nearly two years ago.

“It’s not like a hate message that they sent; it was an actual shooting,” he said. “What would the next thing be? Maybe if I was out by the side of the road I would have been shot.”

Waldo County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the shooting. Chief Deputy Jason Trundy said April 12 that trying to find out what motivated a suspect is part of any normal investigation and would be looked at in this case.

Trundy said, depending on the information generated from the investigation, charges that might be brought if a suspect is caught could include criminal mischief, reckless conduct and reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon. If the police are able to determine that the family was targeted because of its Muslim faith, Trundy said the office would look to coordinate with the attorney general on the best way to move forward with applicable charges.

Al Rawi and Piper opened Five Pillars Butchery — a name that refers to the five pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca, the basic mandatory acts for those who practice the religion — about one year ago because of the difficulty they had finding halal — permissible — meat of quality. Al Rawi said he wanted the Muslim community in Maine to have a high-quality halal option.

According to the butchery’s website, for a meat to be permissible in Islamic tradition, the animal is handled gently and maneuvered so that it faces toward Mecca. God’s name should be mentioned and then the animal is killed with a swift cut to its throat so that its blood is drained from its body.

“After a couple hours (after police left Sunday), I called the police and asked if I could fix (the sign) so I could send a message to the shooter that we are here and we’re staying,” Al Rawi said.

Piper, who in the past has been involved in outreach events put on by the Islamic Center of Maine in Orono — a mosque and community of which the family is a part — said she wants to continue that work and organize similar events in the Troy area in the future.

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