BY NATHAN DUKE
An Astoria business owner who was attacked at his store for being a Muslim attended President Donald Trump’s Tuesday address to Congress, where he hoped to send a message of inclusivity.
Sarker Haque, 53, who operates the Fatima Food Mart on 21st Avenue in Astoria, was attacked in December 2015 during an incident that has been categorized as a hate crime. At that time, Piro Kolvani, 55, is alleged to have walked into the store, told Haque that he “kills Muslims” and repeatedly punched him in the face.
This week, Haque made his first trip to Washington, D.C., where he attended Trump’s first address to Congress with U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights). Haque said he wanted the president—whose recently halted Muslim travel ban and strict immigration proposals have left Queens immigrants unsettled—to recognize the contribution of immigrants to the United States.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunity in this country,” said Haque, who hails from Bangladesh. “I’ve worked hard and had five kids.
We have hardworking immigrant people in this country and we do our best. What [Trump] is saying is scary for us. We’re very uncomfortable. He’s our president now, but my message is that immigrants are standing together. Not all immigrants are good people, but a majority of them are.”
Crowley said he invited Haque to the president’s address to Congress to counter Trump’s tough talk on immigration.
“President Trump has demonized Islam and the Muslim American community since he first announced his campaign for the presidency— attacks that only continued after his inauguration,” the congressman said. “This rhetoric, along with the announced travel ban against seven predominantly Muslim countries, goes against what we stand for as Americans. When the president [spoke] to the country on Tuesday, he also [addressed] Sarker—a business owner, a proud American and, like the president’s family, an immigrant who came to the United States in search of the American dream.”
Haque said the Astoria community, where he has lived for nearly 30 years and operated his store for 18 years, was overwhelmingly supportive after he was attacked.
“I know most of the people,” he said of the community. “They gave me a lot of support and sympathy. In Astoria, we have Asians, Greeks, Italians, Middle Easterners, Chinese, black immigrants and Latinos. We’re not divided.”
Kolvani, who lives in Florida, was indicted on four charges, including a third-degree assault as a hate crime. At the time of the attack, the defendant had allegedly been looking at a copy of the New York Post—which featured a photo of a suspect in the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernadino on its cover—in Haque’s store.
Kolvani allegedly began asking Haque if various items in his store were free before throwing punches for several minutes. As the defendant attempted to leave the scene, Haque grabbed hold of his jacket and a customer who had come into the store prevented Kolvani from leaving until the police arrived.