DEARBORN — The owner of a popular new cafe, Haraz Coffee, has sparked outrage for previous derogatory comments he made against Shi’a Muslims over social media.
An Instagram profile named HAR*Z COFFEE posted screenshots Thursday of past posts made by Hamzah Nasser disparaging Shia’s, who are a large segment of Metro Detroit’s Muslim population, and their faith. Some of those posts date back to 2016.
One screenshot is of Nasser’s 2018 tweet about recent immigrants to Dearborn, who he blamed for rising housing prices and wanted deported, while linking a CNN article about then President Trump asking why the U.S. wanted to take in immigrants from “sh*thole countries.”
Another screen grab is of a comment Nasser made on the Dearborn Area Community Members Facebook page, mocking a Muharram march in Dearborn in 2016.
“It’s that time of the year again, lol,” he commented.
A 2018 post showed Nasser accusing Shi’as that “their version of Mahdi” would come to “kill all the Arabs.” Mahdi is a revered figure who Muslims believe will appear before yawm al-qiyamah or the Day of Resurrection to redeem Islam and rid the world of evil.
The creator of the HAR*Z COFFEE Instagram profile, Zena, spoke to The Arab American News. Despite rumors, Zena confirmed she is not an employee of another coffee shop in Dearborn.
She said she dug through Nasser’s past public comments after her sister posted about a recent visit to Haraz Coffee and was confronted by someone online regarding Nasser’s history of expressing provocative anti-Shi’a viewpoints.
“I went through his Facebook because I didn’t want to make any allegations without proof because I knew I was gonna get backlash because he was getting so much praise.”
Zena called for a boycott of Haraz Coffee and said Nasser had erased the posts in question. Nasser’s twitter account @hamzahnasser has been deleted.
“You can erase your posts and comments all you want, but you can’t erase our memories,” the HAR*Z COFFEE Instagram profile stated.
Zena said the cafe’s Instagram originally blocked her two days ago and later Nasser reached out inviting her to visit Haraz Coffee to “discuss the allegations.”
“He did not deny them, nor did he apologize,” Zena said. “I said you’re a little too late. You wiped out the evidence and I know what you did. And I’m not going to your shop and no one that I know is coming to your shop.”
Zena said Nasser responded by saying she is “low class and spreading false allegations.”
Nasser posted a statement the next day apologizing for his comments over the Haraz Coffee’s social media on Thursday.
“Simply put, (those tweets and statements) were wrong,” part of the statement read. “The posts and statements were insulting, disrespectful, misogynistic and absolutely deserving of condemnation. For this, I am wholeheartedly sorry.”
Nasser said he took full accountability for the statements and that they were made by “a different man” than he is today. He said he was prepared to do work and mend rifts and “strengthen our community,” and that he understood the pain and hurt he had caused.
In response to Nasser’s apology, Zena said, “As a Shi’a Muslim and follower of ahl-al bayt and a descendant of ahl al-bayt, I can’t help but feel bad and show mercy. But with saying that, I don’t buy it. Yesterday I was a ‘liar’ and ‘low class’, ‘rude’ and ‘disappointing.’ And then the next day we have any apology.”
Some social media users were also not convinced by Nasser’s apology.
“You’re only apologetic because you got caught in 4k,” commented one Facebook user on the apology post.
“I do not believe the sincerity behind this man’s apology,” said another commenter. “He is only apologizing for being caught and now being exposed to the fullest extent.”
Others came out to Nasser’s defense, one saying the apology was sincere and that he had known Nasser to have grown out of his past views.
“Being a member of the Shi’a community and a lifelong friend I have seen his growth first hand and I love him for the sake of Allah swt,” commented one user on the statement on Facebook.
“It’s rather a shame that members of our community are digging into someone’s past… our prophet (pbuh) and ahuhl bayt (a) would not do such a thing,” said another commenter. “So how dare we do such a thing? (I)t seems that he has changed, and he certainly has made an apology. (L)et’s act with sincerity, and move forward together, as a community.”
The Arab American News made multiple attempts to reach out to Haraz Coffee by phone, with no response. A response was given on Instagram, refusing to comment to the Yemeniya author of this article.
“So you want to come talk to the owner regarding a post five years ago? Where were you that time?” said a person operating Haraz’s social media, adding, “We won’t sit with you or talk with you.” They also accused The Arab American News of targeting Yemeni businesses.
Zena said the community should be aware that this outrage should not be singular to one community.
“If there was stuff being said about the Sunni community, I would be just as angry and livid. I would bring just as much awareness to this. Slander on either side is not going to be tolerated any further. This new generation will not take it. ”
She added, “I hope to see community unity and everyone work together as one Islamic faith.”
Haraz Coffee opened in the city’s east side in early April and is frequented by the area’s diverse Arab community.
Messages of unity at gathering outside Haraz
Arab American community leaders and Wayne County and Dearborn officials gathered at Haraz Coffee last Sunday, to promote unity and address divisions sparked by the recent events. Nasser stood with the event’s participants.
Present among the speakers and participants were several Yemeni community leaders and activists.
The testimony to that is that the new generation is creating its own opportunities. This makes us proud. Any community that grows will have differences of opinion, and that is normal. At the end of the day, we continue to support a unified community – Dr. Kalid Kaid Shajra, YACC
Yemeni activists who supported Sunday’s initiative towards unity were Shiek Aref Mohsin Ishaq, Abdullah Hubaish, Dr. Bilal Shafel, Musaid Obad Ishaq, Adnan Alwazeer and Kamal Barman, community relations for the Yemeni American Chamber of Commerce (YACC).
Also present were Luqman Saleh of Yemerican PAC Michigan; Abdulrhaman Barman, president of the American Center for Justice (ACJ); Shiekh Jamal Mogalli, president of Yemeni American Heritage, Anwar Saleh of the Yemeni American Association (YAA); Bander Bawazeer, chairman of the YACC; Adel Alasad, executive vice president of the YACC and Dr. Kalid Kaid Shajra, chairman of the endorsement board for the YACC and chairman of the advisory board of the International Council for Relief and Development (ICRD).
“We have seen a tremendous growth in every aspect of our community — economic, political, educational,” Shajra, a decades-long community activist, told The Arab American News. “The testimony to that is that the new generation is creating its own opportunities. This makes us proud. Any community that grows will have differences of opinion, and that is normal. At the end of the day, we continue to support a unified community. We need common goals of inclusion, cooperation and justice.”
Shajra said Sunday’s goal was to promote unity, inclusion and respect for each others’ opinions. He said Nasser was appreciative of the effort.
Also at the gathering were Dearborn City Council President Susan Dabaja, State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn), Chief of Staff for the Wayne County Executive Assad Turfe, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Abed Hammoud, Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun ,Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge Judge Helal Farhat, 19th District Court Judge Sam Salamey and other community leaders.
Above: Officials and community leaders gather at Haraz Coffee on Sunday, June 13. Photos: Abbas Shehab
Yes, we can disagree and have a difference of opinion. That will enrich our community. But when the discussion becomes so divisive, and drives us apart, then it becomes destructive and we should stop it, immediately – Osama Siblani
Palestinian activist and University of Detroit Mercy Law Professor Amer Zahr was also present at the event.
The Arab American News Publisher Osama Siblani, who spearheaded the gathering and organized it, spoke at the event, saying the gathering should be used as an example of unity. He urged the community to move on, together.
“We come here to stand together against extremism and division,” he said. “Our businesses and unity are important to us. Yes, we can disagree and have a difference of opinion. That will enrich our community. But when the discussion becomes so divisive, and drives us apart, then it becomes destructive and we should stop it, immediately.”
Turfe said the community’s overall agenda should be to support one another.
“My mother once told me that when you’re stuck in a dilemma and have a choice to be correct or be kind, choose kindness,” Turfe said. “We stood together in support of the Palestinian. We are here now, standing together.”
Turfe said one person’s words do not necessarily represent an entire community, and it was important to not let any one disagreement divide it.
Salamey urged Arab Americans to be tolerant and respect each other, warning them not to import the ills that destroyed their motherlands to this community.
– Hassan Abbas contributed to this article