It does not make the crime any less gruesome. It does not make the incident any less tragic. It does not detract from my profound sadness at the murder of fellow Egyptians in my country. Yet, the murder of the Armanious family was not the result of a “jihad” operation; Islamic militants did not kill the family “in line with Qur’an 47:4.” After it was discovered that the Armanious family had been murdered, rumors began to fly that it was a religiously-motivated killing. Apparently, Hossam Armanious, the father, had gotten into heated arguments with Muslims on an internet chat room and was warned to “stop this bullshit or we are going to track you down like a chicken and kill you.”
What’s more, bloggers on the website JihadWatch.org stated: “The Armanious family had inspired several Muslims to convert to Christianity–or thought they had. These converts were actually practicing taqiyya, or religious deception, pretending to be friends of these Christians in order to strengthen themselves against them.” Tensions between Egyptian Muslims and Christians flared. Sheikh Tarek Youssof Saleh offered condolences at the funeral of the Armanious family and, according to him, he was called “killer and animal and terrorist.”
I called for restraint and echoed the call of many to wait until the investigation into the murder was completed before making premature judgments and accusations. Then came the arrests of Edward McDonald and Hamilton Sanchez, convicted drug dealers, for the murders of Houssam Armanious, his wife and two children. In the days after the slayings, approximately $3,000 was withdrawn from Mr. Armanious’ bank account using his ATM card, and surveillance video from cameras over the cash machines helped lead investigators to the accused. McDonald was a tenant in the Armanious’ two-family house at the time of the murders. After the arrests were announced, leaders of both communities expressed relief: “We are very relieved that the perpetrators are brought to justice,” said Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association, “and we hope they will be severely punished.”
So, it was a brutal and gruesome robbery, and not an act of “Islamic brutality.” There was no act of taqiyya to get close to the family in order to kill them; no act of murder “in line with Qur’an 47:4.” And all we had to do is wait for the facts, just as God told us to do: “If a wicked person comes to you with news, ascertain the truth, lest you harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of regret for what you did” (49:6). This tragic incident reminds me of the case of LAX shooter Hesham Mohamed Hedayet, who shot and killed two people at an El Al ticket counter in 2002. Almost as soon as the story broke, people were shouting “terrorism.” Yet, after the facts came in, it was determined that terrorism had nothing to do with the shooting.
I must reiterate: the fact that two non-Egyptian, non-Muslim men were arrested and charged with the murders of the Armanious’ does not detract from the tragedy and brutality of this incident. I wish it did not happen. Yet, it did happen, unfortunately. We cannot change that fact.
Yet, there can be some good that comes out of this tragedy. As Sarah Issa, director of media relations for the New Jersey office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said: “even though the Islamic community was blamed, it’s still understood that the tragedy is kind of what prompted this, and that is really a lesson for all of us to try to reach some common sense and wait for the authorities to come to the bottom of it before we start accusing others.” If something like this happens in the future–which I sincerely pray from the bottom of my heart does not–no one should jump to conclusions.
And it should begin with the case of Haroon Piryani. Mr. Piryani was a Muslim Chicago cab driver who was killed on February 4. Allegedly, City of Chicago employee Michael Jackson used Mr. Piryani’s cab and repeatedly ran over him, crushing him to death. Mr. Jackson was his passenger at the time. As soon as the arrest of Mr. Jackson was announced, there were some in the Muslim community who shouted “hate crime.” I say let’s wait for the facts. Let us not jump to premature conclusions. Let us listen to God’s command in the Qur’an (49:6).
In addition, the tragic Armanious family murders also served to unearth the underlying tensions and rifts between the Egyptian Muslim and Christian communities. These rifts and tensions need to be addressed and mended. I am heartened by the words of Mr. Meunier: “We continue to endorse good relations between Egyptian Muslim and Christian communities both in New Jersey and abroad,” and I echo his call. In fact, on the anniversary of the Armanious family murder each year, American Egyptian Muslims and Christians should get together across the country and celebrate the Armanious family’s memory. In the process, both communities will strenghten the common bonds of ethnic heritage. language, and culture. An event such as this would go a long way to build bridges of understanding between Egyptian Muslims and Christians. And it would ensure that Houssam Armanious and his family will never have died in vain.