Shrewsbury residents opened their mailboxes on May 1 to find tri-folded letters stuffed inside. Scrawled across them in capital letters was anti-Muslim rhetoric targeting the town’s only Islamic selectman candidate.
Police are investigating the “hate-filled” letters, sent just one day before the election.
The target of the letter, Rashid Shaikh, a native Pakistani, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in the town for 20 years. He lost the five-way selectman race for two seats on May 2, but he retained his position as an elected town meeting member.
“We do not want a Muslim person to be ruling our communities,” the all-caps letter stated.
The letter accused Shaikh of having a “manipulative personality,” of using “illegal people” in business and of unfair business practices, and it said he depends on state money for his son’s tuition at UMass Amherst, which the letter accused of having “radical views” and being “against Christianity or any other non-Muslim religions” — all things Shaikh disputed in a Worcester Telegram & Gazette report.
Shaikh found out about the letter on social media and addressed it in a public statement.
“I'm however deeply saddened by the lies and personal attacks. Unfortunately, the culprit may not be punished by the law but will surely get karma some day,” Shaikh wrote on his Facebook page on May 3, congratulating the successful candidates.
Shaikh did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.
John Robbins, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said letters like the one written about Shaikh are becoming all too common.
“Certainly, around the country, we’ve seen them very, very frequently,” Robbins said, noting Cambridge City Councilor Nadeem Mazen even faced death threats when he was elected in 2015. “When Muslims run for office, it’s common to see threats like these types of letters or intimidation.”
Anti-Muslim bias is becoming more common in the U.S., according to a report released Tuesday by the national chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The report tallied 2,213 incidents of anti-Muslim bias in the U.S. last year — a 57 percent increase over the previous year — and Robbins, for one, is pointing his finger at the political climate.
Though incidents were on the rise prior to Donald Trump’s election, the increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents from 2014 to 2015 was 5 percent, or 1,342 and 1,409, respectively.
“I think it’s trickle-down racism,” Robbins said. “At the end of the day, when we have a presidential candidate who then becomes president who says Muslims are dangerous and need to be banned from entering our country and who blames immigrants for a whole host of economic problems, this empowers and legitimizes discrimination in our own backyards.”
CAIR’s mission is to increase understanding of Islam by encourage dialogue between American Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors. It’s these types of grassroots efforts Robbins said have the best chance of stopping the hateful rhetoric seen in the Shrewsbury letter.
“Realistically, we’re not going to be able to stop one lone lunatic from writing a letter, but we can continue to shine a light on this kind of bigotry and let people know it is happening in their own backyards.”