Last month's shocking bombing at the Boston Marathon was followed by a manhunt that ended with the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar's older brother and the presumed mastermind of an attack that killed three and injured hundreds. Since then, controversy has arisen over the question of where the elder Tsarnaev will be buried -- and yesterday, reports inaccurately implied that he would be coming here under the auspices of the Colorado Muslim Society, which is still dealing with fallout from the situation.
The issue flared up after an article in the Denver Post quoting Colorado-based cleric Sheikh Abu-Omar Almubarac as saying he would "pay for a traditional Muslim burial -- no headstone, monument or casket -- at a plot at a Muslim cemetery in Denver or Bennett." The piece added that "Almubarac incorporated the Colorado Muslim Society in the late 1960s."
Author Aman Ali, who spells the Sheikh's name "Abu Omar Al-Mubarac," describes him as "a pioneer of the Muslim community in Denver and...still an active volunteer here. He grew up in Iraq and escaped the country in the 1960s when the Baath Party, Saddam Hussein's ruling group, wanted him dead because he refused to side with them. He's been living in the Denver area since 1968."
The photo-filled article focuses on Almubarac's upbeat nature and sense of humor. For instance, he says he settled in the Denver area because "the weather here is like a woman. She never knows how to make up her mind." There's also this intriguing passage:
For an 80-year-old man that's seen so much in his life, I asked him where he gets his optimism from. He points to the rectangle rug that's in front of the couch.
"See this? It's about the size of a grave," he said. "Whenever my head gets big, I think about my grave. Because when I die, no matter what I have in life, I can't take my possessions to the grave with me."
The interest in Tamerlan Tsarnaev's grave immediately thrust Almubarac into the national spotlight, as witnessed by "Colorado cleric offers to bury Boston suspect's body in a Muslim cemetery -- but with NO headstone," a lengthy article in the U.K. Daily Mail. But early on, articles made little distinction between Almubarac and the Colorado Muslim Society.
Examples? The original item on the Post website has been overwritten, but an AP brief remains online at this writing. The latter has been updated, too; it now notes that Almubarac "made his offer independently of the organization," meaning the Colorado Muslim Society. But the qualifier doesn't appear in many versions of the story that have circulated around the globe on the AP wire, including this article on the CBS Boston site.
As such, members of the Colorado Muslim Society suddenly were drawn into a national debate, with leaders immediately taking action to distance the organization from the burial offer.
After seeing the Post piece, says Qusair Mohamedbhai, the group's general counsel, "the board president and the executive director issued a statement, which was quickly done."
Here's the statement. The bold print line is in the original:
It has recently been reported that the Colorado Muslim Society has offered to provide burial services for Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the individuals who perpetrated the grave and destructive bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon. This report is absolutely untrue. The individual who has reportedly made this offer does not speak on behalf of the Colorado Muslim Society.
The Colorado Muslim Society strongly condemns all acts of violence and grieves with all of America after the attacks in Boston. The conduct of Tamerlan Tsarnaev is abhorrent and contrary to every principle and belief that underlies the purpose of the Colorado Muslim Society.
Mohamedbhai, a prominent local attorney who recently appeared in this space as part of a post about Franklin Sain, a client accused of harassing Representative Rhonda Fields over her support of gun-control legislation, credits the quick response in preventing possible attacks from critics about the burial story. He confirms that the society wasn't inundated with hate e-mails and the like. But members of the society were troubled.
"It was a negative response at the normal evening prayer of the members who attended the mosque," reveals Mohamedbhai, referring to the group's worship space on South Parker Road. "They were going up to the mosque leaders, saying, 'What's going on?'"
By then, the statement had already been issued, but Mohamedbhai confirms that "the members were upset their local mosque was being associated with these horrible tragedies in Boston -- these crimes that were committed against America and Americans," as well as folks visiting from around the world.
Mohamedbhai understands their frustration. In his view, "the media oftentimes associates a group with the conduct of an individual. They will use a broad brush to portray a religion based on the actions of a criminal few."
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That said, Mohamedbhai appreciates the actions of those media outfits that rapidly published the statement disassociating the Colorado Muslim Society from the offer to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Likewise, he believes "there have been efforts made by the media to improve" when it comes to its portrayal of Muslims in America -- "but there's still a long way to go."
More from our News archive: "Video: Boston Marathon explosions -- Denver Police Department responds."