Let’s begin this post with a positive thought for Aya Hachem, please recite a Surah Fatiha if you can.
[Tw: Death, shooting.] A short summary: Aya Hachem was a 19 yr old Lebanese Muslim woman who was recently shot in Blackburn, UK (17th May 2020). She was on her way to Lidl (a chain supermarket) to buy groceries for her family when someone drove by and shot her. Following her death, and in the spirit of the holy month of Ramadhan in which zakat (charity) is encouraged, Muslims online launched fundraisers to build Mosques and wells in Aya’s name. A few days later it was made public that Aya was a Shia Muslim which caused a large number of Sunni Muslims online to denounce and retract the fundraisers for Aya due to her being Shia.
I intend to write this post to inform you of the news concerning the death of Aya Hachem and hopefully not stretch too far beyond that. The details have been confusing to follow and so I hope to share all the relevant details for you on one page. The incidents that have transpired over the past few days have deeply upset me. It took me two days to try and write this because I found it so sad, particularly as a Shia Muslim. There is one point however that I’d like to begin with. Aya died at what Muslim’s would believe is one the holiest times of the year, Ramadhan. Not to mention it was two days after the death anniversary of Imam Ali (a.s) and around the date of Laylat al-Qadr. I want to try my best to preserve the sanctity of her death, given the religious significance of its timing. One day I shall try to share more about my personal reflections on the treatment of Shias; however for now I urge that we stick to the facts and the story when speaking of Aya, and out of respect try not to use her death as a point of political discussion.
Aya was a second year student at the University of Salford, and Vice-president of its law society. Her dream was to work in international law and she was also a young trustee for the Children’s Society. She and her family came to Britain approx 10 years ago to flee from conflict in Lebanon. As mentioned above, she was shot whilst on her way to the supermarket. The BBC has reported that ‘eight people have been arrested on suspicion of murder while a further three suspects have been held on suspicion of assisting an offender. The suspects, who are aged 19 to 39, remain in police custody.’
The story has been lacking in mainstream media coverage, but as news had passed around (through social media channels at least), some people started fundraisers in Aya’s name for various charitable causes, such as building mosques, and wells. A few days later when it was revealed and spread that Aya was a Shia Muslim, many Sunni donors sought to withdraw their donations and remove their fundraisers. One social media account on Twitter (who I will avoid referring to directly as I do not plan to give them free advertisement) openly declared that they would be taking down a fundraiser they had started as they “did not know she was Shia”, and would offer refunds to the donors. This account seems to be what caused the issue to become part of wider public knowledge as it sparked outrage and debate from mostly Shia online users. I’ll note that at present with the story getting more recognition online, there are of course a number of Sunni Muslims who are condemning the acts of the other groups.
It was only when I saw a Shia friend of mine share a screenshot of this person’s initial Tweets (in which they said they would be taking down the fundraiser due to finding out Aya was Shia) onto her Instagram story that I found out Aya was Shia. Did it matter that Aya was Shia? No. A person was shot, that’s really all that matters. Before then sharing it onto my own story, I did some research and found the Twitter account of the person in question. I observed that they were under a lot of pressure and vented that “Shias and feminists” were coming for them and sharing screenshots of their Tweets “for clout“. It appeared that within a matter of hours they had put the fundraiser back up and also deleted their first Tweets. The following day I read an article in which an apology by this person was shared. If you want to read it for yourself, click here. I will refrain on commenting on the apology as I think it’s between Allah, the person and Aya’s family.
I can say with some certainty that if you don’t have at least one Shia person in your social circle, you probably wouldn’t have heard about Aya’s fundraisers being taken down when it had occurred two days ago. With each passing day I have become more patient and less anxious about this story. As I observe how things have been spreading on social media, it was only today that I saw several non-Shia Muslims whom I follow online share details of this case. I found it somewhat annoying in the past when people would express their anger for the lack of solidarity for a certain cause/people, as other issues pertaining to ‘more privileged’ groups received far greater support only a short while prior. It was annoying because of all the noise, yet valid and true. Even though I have supported and related to a lot of the causes I thought about when writing the last two lines, I now have truly felt what it means to experience that lack of solidarity. It really shouldn’t be so easy to think of examples of recent atrocities, but lets just think about Arbery, or even Sudan. Where did all the noise go since then? What happened to the solidarity?
There is no evidence to suggest that the shooting was a racially motivated attack, (indeed the detectives working on the case are also of this thinking) and I doubt the killer(s) knew Aya was Shia. That is not what this post is implying at all. It is the case however that once her Shia background was revealed after her death, people took to online platforms to attack her and other Shias, and those who defend Shias.
One online user had this to say in response to the person receiving backlashing for retracting their fundraiser: “Hey bro you have nothing to worry about. If she was a Shi’a, she deserves to het shot. Shi’a are not Muslim, they are enemies of Islam…”. This sentiment was not limited to this user but was in fact shared by many others who chose to publicly raise their disturbing views. Is it not ISIS mentality? The majority of ISIS victims are Shia Muslims by the way. This story is highlighting the very unfortunate state we are in. It’s so unfair that Shia people receive these levels of hate, but for the sake of this post I can’t say more than that.
What really perplexes me is that its Ramadhan. By now I’m sure you know what it is or understand its significance for Muslims. For the Muslim readers especially, I’m sure you’ve heard all the mighty talk of the tenets of a pious person whilst growing up. So of all the times of the year, why would those people choose now as the time to expose their hatred for Shia’s in this way. Where did the sunnah go? What happened to akhlaq? Yesterday I even saw someone share that violent and aggressive anti-Ahmediyya (another Muslim sect) hashtags have been trending on Twitter all the while it has been Ramdhan. I can’t speak further on this as it’s not something that I have researched myself as I do not wish to see those violent threads, but having supremacy over other sects surely is not in line with the teachings of the Prophet.
Only a week ago, a maternity ward in Afghanistan was under attack and amongst the deaths and casualties, babies that had only been alive for a few hours were killed. Again, people found out that the victims were Shia (they were targeted in a Shia district) a few days after the initial news had spread. To my knowledge this did not cause hate, but it felt like some people had lost interest in the story once this fact was revealed. Moreover few people chose to highlight that the victims were Shia once it was revealed. In this case as well, it’s not important that the victims were Shia. They were innocent people that were brutally killed. However in adding on the fact that they were Shia, we are able to highlight the injustices that Shia minorities do face. On a lighter note, since that attack many mothers have been offering to breastfeed and adopt the babies who were made motherless.
*A message from Aya’s father, Ismail Hachem:
Al Fatiha. “Indeed we belong to God, and unto God is our ultimate return. With great sorrow and heavy hearts, we present our lamentations to the Master of Our Time, Imam Mahdi (atfs), and to the Prophet of Islam, the Prophet of Mercy and Peace, Mohammed (pbuh) and His Progeny. My precious and compassionate daughter is sacrificed in your way. She is the martyr of science and knowledge, and being estranged from home. She is the martyr of hope, dreams, and the struggle for success. She is the martyr of fasting the Holy Month of Ramadhan, and yet she died oppressed and wronged. Killed by a hail of bullets fired from the gun of betrayal, exiting with wounds of frustration that bleed from our hearts. My strong daughter. A lawyer in the making. Aya. Ismail. Hachem. May God’s Mercy enshroud your pure soul. Oh you who broke your fathers back with your untimely departure, you were my every dream, the embodiment of love for knowledge and the pursuit of highest of morals and etiquette. You leave behind a mother who carried and delivered you into this world, patient despite all the difficulties of child birth. A mother so pure, always in the state of remembering The Almighty, always patient in times of difficulty, eternally placing her trust in whatever The Lord writes for us of trials and tribulations in this life. You left behind your elder brother Ibraheem whom you’ve always known to be righteous unto his parents, always compassionate towards his siblings. Your younger sister Aseel misses you dearly, the bright and promising one who followed in your footsteps. And you left behind an infant brother, Amir. Amir whom you showered with your love, compassion and warmth. Oh Allah, give us patience in this difficult time, and give my daughter a place in the companionship of the Righteous ones in the company of Mohammed (pbuh) and His Family. Amen.”
(*Apologies, I found this in an article online but have lost the original link for crediting)
I wanted to explain the difference between Sunnis and Shias and explore the conversation of, “We’re all Muslim, I wish there were no sects and we could just get along”, but I want to stick to my commencing intention of straying from ‘politics’ etc. If you would like me to discuss these things another time then let me know. In short though, [some] people have and will always antagonise that which they do not understand or find different to themselves. Rather than going about things in this way (i.e. regarding sectarian divide), I hope more people can show that it is possible to peacefully coexist despite having differences.
If you would like to donate to a fundraiser to build a school in the name of Aya Hachem, please follow this link.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I would like to end by sharing a nasheed I used to listen to as a child as I think it’s very relevant to this discussion. Click here to listen to “My Ummah” by Sami Yusuf.
Eid Mubarak in advance and good luck 世界。
此致敬礼 – From Nabeela.