Two weeks after his younger brother was shot to death by law enforcement in the parking lot of a Roslindale CVS, Imam Ibrahim Rahim is haunted by unanswered questions.
Law enforcement says Usaamah Rahim was a would-be terrorist, part of an aborted scheme to behead “boys in blue.” He was brandishing a military-style knife when police shot him.
But Rahim’s older brother, long one of Boston’s most respected Muslim clerics, said in his first extended comments on the case that he cannot reconcile the brother he knew with officials’ description of what he had become. They were raised, he said, in a family committed to a religion of peace.
He said the family would have intervened, forcefully, at any notion that Usaamah was aligning himself with Muslim extremists.
“We would do our physical, spiritual, intellectual best to intervene and to talk down any such scenario,” Imam Rahim said. “As a family we would not allow that to happen. That is not who we are as a people.”
For now, the family is trying to make sense of it all, “like any family that loses a loved one,” Imam Rahim said. “There are questions. We’ve tried to be very patient. We’ve tried to be reserved, calm. We’ve tried not to jump to any conclusions. We have just asked to hear the full range of facts.”
Imam Rahim insists that he simply does not know when, or why, his brother — who was 20 years younger than him — would have any desire to harm others. He describes their family as a conventional, middle-class Boston family, albeit an ecumenical one. His parents converted to Islam in the 1960s, he said.
“We have Baptist relatives and Catholic relatives,” he said. “At family gatherings, we were in the minority. The bond of family is very strong regardless of what religious pathways we have chosen to follow. We have done our best as a family to not allow religion to become something that divides us or causes us to run from one another.”
He said he does not accept his brother’s radicalization as a fact, insisting that he never saw any evidence of it.
Imam Rahim is well aware that law enforcement, and much of the city, views it differently. Usaamah Rahim was shot to death early on the morning of June 2, after around-the-clock surveillance by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Police and prosecutors say he had targeted police officers as potential targets. Wiretaps, they said, supported that view.
The Rahim family has retained two Harvard Law School professors, Ronald A. Sullivan Jr. and Intisar A. Rabb, to represent it. In a series of statements, they have praised law enforcement for its respectful dealings with the family, while politely pressing for answers on why the confrontation between Usaamah Rahim and the officers turned fatal. They suspect he could have been captured alive.
Usaamah Rahim’s relatives were shown a video of the standoff. It was a moment relatives can never be fully prepared for.
“To take it in with the rest of the family and go through that shock together is something we’re all trying to process,” Imam Rahim said. “Probably the best way to characterize it is that we’re trying to mourn, and seek understanding, and be patient, and give over to the power of God those things we cannot understand or control.”
Imam Rahim moved to California last year, but his identification with Boston remains strong. He has prevailed on local Muslims to refrain from criticizing the shooting until the investigation is complete. He said he wants to be a force for unity.
“We are one people, and this is one nation,” he said. “We are Bostonians, and we gave the message of ‘God Bless America’ and ‘Boston Strong’ because we value those messages strongly and can only hope they will be accepted by common men and women in this country.”