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IN PHOTOS: An Interfaith Memorial Service Honors Death of Palestinian Boy 

Rev. Michael Woolf shares a Christian perspective and prayer on Wadea's death. Photo credit: Silma Suba

Rev. Michael Woolf shares a Christian perspective and prayer on Wadea's death. Photo credit: Silma Suba

On October 14, 2023, a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy, Wadea Al-Fayoume, was stabbed 26 times to his death by his family’s landlord, Joseph M. Czuba, in Plainfield, Illinois, in an apparent anti-Muslim hate crime.  

Czuba also grievously stabbed Al-Fayoume’s mother, 32-year-old Hanaan Shahin, whom he had confronted a few days before the murder about the escalating Israel-Palestine war. According to a court filing, Czuba told his wife he “believed that they were in danger and that (Shahin) was going to call over her Palestinian friends or family to harm them.”  

Seven months after Al-Fayoume’s murder, on May 19, a sunny Sunday afternoon in Chicago, over 50 community members gathered inside the stained-glass chapel of the First United Methodist Church of Chicago to host an interfaith memorial service in Al-Fayoume’s honor. The tall skyscraper church, also called The Chicago Temple, stands at the corner of Washington and Clark in downtown Chicago.  

Asif Masood, interfaith and outreach coordinator at Muslim Community Center Chicago, shares opening remarks. Photo credit: Silma Suba

“Words cannot contain the grief and sorrow we feel of the senseless tragedy,” said Anna Piela, co-associate regional minister of American Baptist Churches Metro Chicago and one of the event organizers, addressing the tearful audience. “We know that God’s heart was the first to break.”  

The Muslim Community Center, the Muslim Civic Coalition, and the Lake Street Church of Evanston co-sponsored the event. Throughout the hour-long event, which kicked off at 4 p.m. CDT, interfaith leaders representing Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities offered prayers and reflections honoring Al-Fayoume’s life.  

“Today is my son’s 5th birthday, and he looks very similar to Wadea. So when I look at him, I see Wadea, and the fact that he’s not with us today really hurts my heart,” said Tarek Khalil, a member of American Muslims for Palestine Chicago. “Wadea’s death was a result of the dehumanization and degradation of an entire people … and we cannot turn away even after the dust settles because Palestinians continue to live under subjugation.” 

Imam Hassan Aly, director of the Humanitarian Faith Initiative, took the stage to share the Muslim perspective on life’s holiness and how children are a gift of God.  

“Today, each child we lose in Gaza is a reminder of the collective failure to protect the most vulnerable among us,” said Aly. “We must not forget the faces of their children, the dreams decayed, and the future that was stolen from them … Let this tragedy remind us of our duty to build bridges of understanding to educate against injustice and to foster communities grounded in mutual respect and love for all.” 

Aly’s speech was followed by Rabbi Brant Rosen of Tzedek Chicago, who shared a Jewish perspective on commemorating Al-Fayoume’s life. He was one of 10 American rabbis who attempted to bring food into Gaza during Passover in April. 

“Yes, as a Jewish person, I genuinely feel threatened by the rise of antisemitism in this country and around the world,” said Rosen. “I understand full well that my safety and security is inseparable from the safety and security of all.”  

Rosen further added, “There are many of us in the American Jewish community who are deeply and profoundly dismayed by the cynical accusations of antisemitism wielded by right-wing political leaders, who have made it abundantly clear that they do not, to put it mildly, have my community’s wellbeing at heart. We know that the charge has less to do with Jewish safety than punishing those who stand in solidarity with Palestinians.” 

Toward the end of the event, Congresswoman Delia Ramirez addressed the audience to urge people to support a U.S. House resolution that honors Al-Fayoume. The H. Res. 942, introduced in December 2023, advocates against hate crimes, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab discrimination.  

“Our children across the globe, Palestinian children, Israeli children, U.S. children deserve to live in peace and to be free from discrimination from hate crimes and violence,” said Ramirez. “What is our call to action? It’s to honor Wadea’s life and all others who have lost their lives to hate and bigotry. And to put our good intentions into action.”  

Rev. Michael Woolf shares a Christian perspective and prayer on Wadea's death. Photo credit: Silma Suba

Ramirez also remarked that the resolution focuses on denouncing both Islamophobia and antisemitism and that it’s “a powerful testament of the coalition that we are building as neighbors.”  

A press release shared about the event by Anna Piela on May 2 states that since October 2023, hate crimes targeting Muslims, Palestinians, and Jews have spiked in the United States. However, while multiple resolutions have been passed by the House to denounce antisemitism, no similar resolution to oppose anti-Palestinian prejudice followed.  

“The tragedy of losing Wadea, a child whose future was stolen by hate fueled by propaganda, must never happen again,” Piela wrote in the release. “We owe this to Wadea and all children.”