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Thousands Attend 6-Year-Old Palestinian-American Boy’s Funeral in Chicago suburb

October 17, 2023: Thousands of Muslims in the United States gathered to honour Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year-old boy stabbed to death in a suspected hate crime which also targeted his mother because they were Muslim and Palestinian-Americans.

The funeral took place on Monday at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, a community southwest of Chicago with a large Palestinian population.

Six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume, the sacrificial lamb to the atmosphere of hate

“This is a heavy day. It is a worst nightmare come true. It is something we’ve tried to warn against,” Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said on Monday. “It pains me that the sacrificial lamb to this atmosphere was this beautiful young six-year-old boy.”

Muslim faith leaders who addressed the mourners decried what they considered the biased news coverage of the Israel-Hamas war, WBEZ’s Anna Savchenko noted, and condemned the stabbing as an assault on all Muslims.

“When this individual said, ‘You Muslims must die,’ this was a message not to the boy and the mother,” Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at a news conference. “This was to all of us. We were all stabbed that day.”

Hanaan Shahin, the boy’s mother, was attacked by Czuba after she said they should “pray for peace” as Israel and Palestine are engulfed in the most dire fighting in decades.

Czuba then attacked her with a knife and when she tried to escape by running into the bathroom, he found Wadea and stabbed him 26 times, killing him. Shahin, 32, suffered multiple wounds but is expected to survive.

“We are not animals, we are humans,” said the boy’s uncle, Yousef Hannon. “We want people to see us as humans, to feel us as humans, to deal with us as humans.”

A group of attendees chanted, “Free Palestine”.

Muslim groups have sought to raise alarm over the last two weeks as a war between Israel and the armed Palestinian group Hamas escalates and brings with it an outpouring of dehumanising rhetoric on social media, some of which depicts Palestinians as violent and uncivilised.

“He was a lovely boy. Loved his family, friends. He loved soccer, basketball,” CAIR’s Rehab told reporters on Sunday. “He paid the price for the atmosphere of hate.”

The suspected attacker, the family’s landlord 71-year-old Joseph Czuba

The suspected attacker, the family’s landlord 71-year-old Joseph Czuba, who had used the Islamophobic words, ‘You Muslims must die,’ has been charged with murder and hate crimes. US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would open a federal hate-crime investigation into the attack. The judge ordered that Czuba remain behind bars. His next court appearance is a preliminary hearing scheduled for Oct. 30.

Also on Monday, Czuba made his first appearance in Will County court, where he was read the eight felony counts he faces, including murder, aggravated battery and hate crimes charges.

“This incident cannot help but further raise the fears of Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities in our country with regard to hate-fueled violence,” the statement said.

Wadea’s killing drew widespread condemnation from elected officials, from President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, who attended the funeral. “As governor of Illinois, I condemn bigotry and violence. I won’t be silent in the face of this evil in any form,” Pritzker said.

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