Thousands of people gathered at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview on Monday to mourn Wadea Al-Fayoume, the Palestinian American boy who authorities said was fatally stabbed because of his Muslim faith. He had turned 6 this month.
Mourners filled the Mosque Foundation, which holds 3,000 people, as they packed into prayer rooms, spilled out into hallways and bowed in prayer. They conducted a traditional mourning prayer called a janazah on behalf of Wadea, asking Allah to bring him to his kingdom in the afterlife, mourner Hadeil Abdelfattah said.
Hundreds more prayed outside, waving Palestinian flags, calling for peace amid the Israel-Hamas war and wiping away tears. Traffic was backed up for blocks, and parking lots filled up at businesses half a mile away from the mosque. Palestinian flags lined the streets in the area.
“I want to tell the world that Wadea was a 6-year-old kid, and he thought he was going to grow up,” said Mahmoud Yousef, Wadea’s uncle, at an evening service Monday. “He thought he had a future. But unfortunately, that was taken away too early.”
Wadea’s death comes as many in the Chicago area struggle to deal with the impact of the war, responding with protests and prayers and expressing fears for loved ones in the region.
He died Saturday morning, when landlord Joseph Czuba, 71, entered the home he shared with his mother, Hanan Shaheen, in Plainfield Township and allegedly attacked them with a knife, authorities said. Prosecutors said in court Monday that Czuba had listened to conservative talk radio about the situation in the Middle East before the attack.
Wadea was stabbed 26 times and died at a hospital, police said. His mother remained hospitalized in serious condition Monday and couldn’t attend her son’s funeral.
After the religious service, a funeral procession left Bridgeview for La Grange Park for Wadea’s burial. The boy’s father, Oday Al-Fayoume, shoveled dirt onto his son’s casket and the crowd prayed.
Al-Fayoume called his son a martyr, like the more than 1,000 children who have been killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in the last week, and said bringing accountability to his son’s killer is the only way to honor his son’s life.
“I’m not a politician. I’m not a religious leader,” Al-Fayoume said in Arabic. “I’m here as the father of a child whose right to life was taken. … As a Muslim people, they talk about us like criminals and terrorists and the Israelis as heroes.
“What happened is a wake-up call for us all,” he said. “And I’m not scared for my son, all glory to God.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Plainfield Mayor John Argoudelis were among the officials paying their respects.
Speakers and attendees at Monday’s funeral called for peace in the Palestinian territories and an end to the Israeli occupation of Gaza. Some criticized politicians, including President Joe Biden, Pritzker and Johnson for their statements of support for Israel. Speakers said disregarding violence endured by Palestinians is dangerous.
“We are standing for human rights, and the Palestinian people deserve to be afforded and extended the same human rights that we enjoy,” said Osama Abuirshaid, the executive director of the American Muslims for Palestine.
Several speakers and attendees said unbalanced and “one-sided” media coverage of the war, without enough context about Israel’s 56-year occupation, 16-year blockade of Gaza and the West Bank and what human rights groups have referred to as an apartheid government, have led to heightened Islamophobic and anti-Arab rhetoric that’s dangerous for Muslims and Arabs — and has led to tragedies like Wadea’s killing.
“With everything, we have to beg for our humanity,” said Minna Hassaballa, 22, who attended the funeral in support of the family.
Outside the mosque, Sadia Nawab held up a sign in front of TV cameras that read, “One-sided statements and media lies fueled the hate that killed Wadea’s life.”
“Telling these things that are not true, telling debunked lies over and over, it is creating a culture among mainstream Americans, who don’t know as much about global news, that Muslims are to be hated,” Nawab said. “That resulted in a 71-year-old landlord … to stab an innocent 6-year-old child.”
Monday evening, hundreds gathered in the gymnasium of Universal School in Bridgeview for a traditional azaa service, in which the community offers condolences to the family.
As mourners streamed into the gymnasium they shook hands with the boy’s father and other family members. They shared heartfelt embraces. Prayers were heard on loudspeakers, and the community recited them together.
Wadea’s uncle, who is considered by the family to be more of a grandfather to the boy, said today was a difficult day for the child’s father.
“He felt it a lot when he put his son in the ground,” Yousef said. “That was very emotional.”
Although the family heard the mom is doing better, they have not been able to get consistent updates on her condition, he said.
“Hopefully, she’s going to be OK,” Yousef said.
Yousef said the support from the community has been “unbelievable,” and he said the family appreciated the kind words they have received.
“We appreciate everything. I mean, take a look inside,” he said, pointing to the crowded gymnasium. “This says something about people wanting to come together.”