Men killed in suspected hate crimes laid to rest

·3 min read

Aug. 6—ALBUQUERQUE — Members of Albuquerque's Muslim community walked under a hot sun Friday as they made their way to the Fairview Memorial Park cemetery.

Ahead of them, in a white van draped in white cloth, were the bodies of Aftab Hussein, 41, and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27.

Both men were recently shot to death in Albuquerque just days apart. Police believe they died at the hands of the same killer.

By the time most of the procession arrived at the cemetery, both bodies had been taken out of the van — each moments away from reaching their final resting place.

Tahir Gauba, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of New Mexico, said Hussein does not have family in the United States. He was buried first, surrounded by a community that embraced him in death.

But Muhammad Afzaal Hussain could not be laid to rest without his brother being present.

Funeral attendees stood by anxiously as members of the Islamic Center delayed Hussain's burial — waiting for Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain to emerge from the crowd of politicians, law enforcement officials and friends making their way to the cemetery.

Finally, his friend, Shawqi Almaayn, was able to reach him over the phone.

"Yes, on the grave," he said to Imtiaz Hussain. "You have to bury your brother."

The Islamic Center held a brief funeral prayer Friday — in conjunction with its regular service — to honor the two Muslim men, who police say were gunned down without provocation.

A third man, 62-year-old Mohammad Ahmadi, was killed in November — the first victim of a killer, or multiple killers, who police believe has targeted Middle Eastern men throughout Albuquerque.

"The [Muslim] community is in shock at the possibility that these killings ... [are] from a source of evil and hate targeting Muslims," said Islamic Center President Ahmad Assed.

He said the notion of someone targeting and killing Muslim men is unprecedented in New Mexico. However, while his community is in shock, Assed said he believes there are many good people in the state who are going to help find those responsible and overcome evil.

"We ... don't forget what our saying is in Islam," Assed said. "If you kill a human unjustly, it's as if you killed all of society. ... Justice must be pursued."

The Islamic Center's spiritual leader, Imam Mahmoud Eldenawi, moved to Albuquerque 10 months ago after about seven years in Little Rock, Ark. He said the community will carry on despite the recent killings.

"Everybody [in Albuquerque's Muslim community] is in need for a kind word, is in need for some spiritual support, so I think that's our role now," Eldenawi said. "Evil should never stop us from going on."

Prior to Friday's burials, Eldenawi led a concerned community in prayer. In his talk, he told attendees that although life is beautiful, it is meant to end.

"This life, one day, is coming to an end. It doesn't matter how long we're going to live. ... At the end, there's another life," he said. "For those who left us and passed away, we can just remember their legacy, their achievements and always make prayer — always remember them."

Afzaal Hussain was remembered Friday not only by his brother and his family but by people from different communities. He had served as Española's land use and planning director for the last year, was a prominent student leader at the University of New Mexico and volunteered for U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury's congressional campaign.

His dedication to each community was honored Friday when Stansbury and colleagues from Española attended his funeral.

After the burial, Imtiaz Hussain was swarmed by his brother's grieving friends, colleagues and acquaintances wanting to talk about Afzaal Hussain between hugs and handshakes.

Imtiaz Hussain said he was touched by the support.

"This is the society; this is the U.S.; this is our Albuquerque; this is New Mexico," he said. "This is the rejection of that idea of hate and violence."