BY TRONE DOWD
Last Friday, elected officials stood out in front of the Jamaica Muslim Center, alongside the religious leader to condemn the vicious attack that left several members of the congregation bruised, battered and hospitalized on April 19.
As reported last week, police told the Press of Southeast Queens that the attack was committed by 26-year-old Michael Voyard. During the traditional noon prayer, Voyard entered the Jamaica Muslim Center located on 85-37 168th St., yelling anti-Islamic slurs. One witness, Chowdhuary M. Elahi, told the Press of Southeast Queens that Voyard initially started with a barrage of expletives, questioning the Muslim faith with force, before attacking.
“He came in and yelled ‘what the **** [is the] Quran?’” Elahi said. “He then started yelling, ‘I’m the prophet.’”
According to Elahi, when someone told Voyard to be quiet while holding a phone, that was when he began to attack.
“The guy had a phone,” Elahi said. “[Voyard], thought he was calling the police. He was actually turning off the phone to prepare for his prayer. He said you’re calling the ******* police old man?’ before grabbing him, putting him on the floor and punching him over and over.”
The victim was identified as 69-year-old male Salem Yafai. Many of the congregants who were present came to break up the fight. Elahi retaliated by swinging at others. A total of ten people were injured, three of which were seriously hurt. Yafai, was hospitalized for serious head injuries including bruising, swelling, pain to his left eye and forehead and a brain hemorrhage.
Shortly after the attack, Voyard fled towards Jamaica High School, attempting an attack another Muslim woman, Mazeda Uddin, before she managed to escape with the aid of her brother. According to police, Voyard was found stripped of clothing on the premise of Jamaica High School. He was arrested around 2:30 p.m.
“I’m very happy with the relationship that we have with the JMC,” Capt. Paul Valerga, Commanding Officer of the 107th Precinct said. “Thankful they were able to get in touch with me and I was able to get my officers here immediately. We were able to arrest this person within minutes after he left here.”
Police confirmed that Voyard was high on drugs at the time of the attack. He was evaluated at the Queens General Hospital Center for psychiatric issues. He has since been released on bail, which outraged some of the members of the community.
“We have been calling our elected officials and local activists to organize and let it be known that we are not going to be hit and we are not going to tolerate any hate crimes,” JMC Secretary Mohammed Hussain said on Friday. He pleaded with the community to learn about the JMC before judging who and what they represent. “Hate begets hate. Please do not come and attack us without knowing us.”
Hussain cited the current condition of national politics for the negativity associated with Muslims in America.
JMC President Mohammed Rahman told the Press of Southeast Queens that Yafai was to attend his daughter’s wedding on Friday but was unable to due to his injuries. Rahman did however, confirm that Yafai was in stable condition.
“Imagine if anyone with a Muslim name would do this kind of act, it would be focused all over the world,” Rahman said. “With sorrow, I would like to request that the authority please take this issue seriously with the sake of harmony and peace in our community.”
Among the elected officials in attendances for Friday’s press conference was Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), Assembly members David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) and Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens). The Jamaica Muslim Center was also paid a visit by Borough President Melinda Katz who shared her concern with members of the mosque earlier Friday morning.
“This mosque, this community has delivered nothing but positive things for as long as I’ve been a council member,” Lancman said. “I’ve personally felt nothing but warmth and friendship and hospitality. The wonderful people of this Mosque, it’s leadership, it’s congregants, deserve to live amongst us and with us as friends and brothers and sisters.”
Weprin condemned the anti-Muslim rhetoric being promoted on the national level of politics, citing that it “goes against everything that the United States stands for.”
“This should be an offense to all Americans and to all decent human beings,” he said. “This country was founded on freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”
Miller, who is in the Muslim faith himself, also expressed his dismay with the attack.
“I stand here today not just with the elected officials and leaders in the community, but with my Muslim brothers and sisters who come here […] as I have to come here to worship and practice their faith.”
Miller pointed out the many contributions that the JMC has done for the community of Jamaica, including their work helping the elderly and local youths.
“I think that the reason why we have the response that we have from the elected officials, from the administration of the Mayor to the borough president is because we have come to value the Jamaica Muslim Center for the beacon that it is.”
Miller said that he hopes those who are involved in this attack and others like it “are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law as it would be in any other community.”
The councilman also said that he wants to see mental health issues and drug abuse problems that are impacting communities across the city handled in a way that keeps people safe.
“We collectively as a city and as a community have to be willing to stand up and make sure all of our citizens are protected,” Miller said.
According to police, Voyard was charged with misdemeanor assault.
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, email@example.com or @theloniusly