“It would cost us $800 to repair every time. But [mosque President] Dr. Arshad Chatha and me, we would never call the police,” said mosque General Secretary Sayed “Pashi” Abbasi. “As a community, we were submissive. We were low-key. We were struggling and not aware of our rights. We were just concerned with putting bread and butter on the table. But this is a turning point.”
Within the past week, members of the Masjid, a mosque attended by many in Jersey City’s Pakistani-American community, have been touched by two violent incidents, including one that left an 18-year old mosque member dead. (That occurred after his brother was robbed of a cell phone and he pursued the alleged perpetrator.) The incidents came as community members are celebrating the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.
On Monday night, at approximately 11:40 or 11:45 p.m., about 200 worshipers were in the mosque when a man from the street ran in, apparently in an effort to flee two men who were allegedly chasing him. Seconds later, gunshots were fired in the direction of the Masjid as the alleged assailants tried to get at the man who had run through the mosque.
Eyewitnesses Tuesday night said the incident allegedly started as a fight on Montgomery Street.
Jersey City police, who said five shots were fired, said Tuesday they believe the incident was either an attempted robbery or a drug deal that went bad.
Members of the Masjid were already in mourning, Abbasi said, following the July 13 shooting death of Mohammad Choudhry, whose family belongs to the mosque.
In that incident, two assailants allegedly robbed a cell phone from Choudhry’s brother and the teen was shot and killed on Virginia Avenue after the brothers ran after the alleged thieves.
Jersey City Police do not believe the two incidents are linked and do not believe anti-Muslim hatred played a role in either crime.
Still, the Police Department has promised to increase car patrols along Montgomery Street, particularly during the remainder of Ramadan, when the mosque is likely to be active. The month long religious holiday ends on Aug. 7.
A police guard remained on duty outside the Masjid Tuesday night.
Hudson County Freeholder William O’Dea and Ward B City Councilman Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal, who knew Choudhry, met with members of the mosque and members of the citywide group Urban Concerns Tuesday night. To help curb crime throughout the city the two said they hope to revive a neighborhood watch and patrol program that disappeared years ago.
Abbasi, who has lived in Jersey City for 43 years, most of them in the Heights, said the recent incidents have hit a nerve in the community.
“This community has never been so active before,” he said, adding that he expects the Pakistani community to get more involved in city issues in the future. “We aren’t just going to be on the sidelines anymore.”
Mayor Steven Fulop met privately with members of the community Tuesday night to express his condolences to the Choudhry family. – E. Assata Wright