No More Guilt by Association

You’ve raised these children. All along they’ve been your responsibility, but not everything they do is under your control. Now they’re adults, and you’re hopeful about all their potential.

You’ve always been strict about no weapons in the house. You want to shelter these kids from violence if at all possible. They’re not kids, you remind yourself, but still. It’s your house, your rules.

You hear about the shooting. When you realize that the harm was done by your own son and daughter-in-law, despite all the goodness you tried to show them… that part I can’t imagine for you. I imagine your heart is shattered. I imagine that your mind struggles to hold this new reality, this unbearable future. This is your worst nightmare.

I’m sorry. Maybe it’s impossible to talk about mass shootings in a way that doesn’t re-traumatize. In this country, I believe that we all have some (first or) second hand trauma from wondering if next time it will be us or much worse, our children, who are victims of this kind of shocking violence.

When things get scary, it’s easy to blame anyone and anything. Blame is a coping mechanism that relieves some discomfort. Racism and Islamophobia come to the table. If the shooter is white, the families of the violent person may experience some empathy. They may even be considered as victims in their own way, facing their own unbearable grief. I’m not saying that their choices as parents will never be questioned, but there may be more room for an understanding of the anguish of all the families involved.

Rafia Sultana Shareef

I don’t have to tell you the next part. If the shooter is Muslim, all bets are off. Just one example – after the Bataclan shooting in Paris, France in 2015, I could feel the shift right away, Islamophobia growing exponentially as a response. A white shooter is viewed as a fluke, and their responsibility is individualized. A Muslim shooter – again, you know this part. The story of how all Muslims are scary terrorists suddenly starts to sound very convincing.


Rafia Sultana Shareef’s son and daughter-in-law were responsible for a mass shooting. The authorities targeted Rafia based on guilt by association. It’s not a crime to be related to a criminal. The Supreme Court has declared guilt by association “alien to the traditions of a free society and the First Amendment itself”. Guilt by association violates both the Fifth Amendment, which requires that guilt must be personal, and the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of association.


In this case, Rafia was not even aware that there were guns in her house, as her children knew she was opposed to having firearms.

Rafia’s attorney, Charles Swift of the MLFA-funded Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America (CLCMA) speaks of her as a kind and caring person who “demonstrated what Muslim values really are” during the trial. Rafia, 65 years old, cooperated with the prosecution during a 4-year investigation, showing her willingness to help them as much as she could in order to understand any details leading up to the event and to prevent this from happening to others. Rafia addressed the families of the victims in court, explaining that she believed the victims were martyrs who would be accepted into heaven directly. She stated that she did not expect but was still asking forgiveness on behalf of her sons, who she believed would not be accepted into heaven without this forgiveness from the family members of the victims.

Rafia was going through a nightmare situation, and yet she stayed grounded in her humanity.

Because Rafia preferred that her other children not be forced to testify, she accepted a single charge of obstruction of justice with probation. The obstruction of justice charge was based on a map that she admitted to shredding. Rafia did not have the intention to obstruct justice, but she was willing to compromise on this point to protect her remaining children. She walked away free, alhamdulilah.

This case is important to the Muslim community because it represents yet another success in the struggle to remove guilt by association from the United States’ anti-terrorism program. When we get involved in cases like these, we protect innocent people. When we show up for someone who would be easy to dismiss, reject, or blame, we live up to the prophetic example. We live up to the values of this country, with liberty and justice for all.


How Do the Parents of Mass Shooters Feel? – The Atlantic

What happened at the Bataclan? – BBC News