US Marine who entered to blow up Indiana mosque embraces Islam

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He was angry that their children would sit next to his daughter in her elementary school, local media reported.

 Sakina Fatima|   Updated: 1st November 2022 6:10 pm IST


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 A picture of Richard McKinney before he embraces Islam (left) and after embracing Islam (right). Photo: Social media

Richard McKinney, a former US Marine who was raised to hate Islam during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, was enraged on seeing Muslim localities in his hometown, when he returned to Muncie, Indiana.

He was angry that their children would sit next to his daughter in her elementary school, local media reported.

Last mission

Unable to contain his anger toward Muslims, McKinney went to the Muncie Islamic Center in 2009, which he considered his last assignment.

He was on his way to plant a bomb in the mosque in the hope of killing or wounding hundreds of Muslims, but before that, he had made an exploratory visit to choose a location to hide his bomb and to gather intelligence that would validate his assumption that Islam was a “killer ideology”.

He said that day, “I told people that Islam is cancer. I was the surgeon to cure it.”

But when McKinney entered the mosque, he encountered a form of resistance he had not planned, and something happened that day, which he had never expected, that would have changed his course to the opposite.

He wanted to kill them instead they saved his life

McKinney recently spoke to CNN about his unexpected transformation, after he walked out of his house to the mosque, which he thought would end up killing him.

Richard McKinney after converting to Islam. (Photo: Social Media)

He entered the mosque armed but faced resistance of a different kind that he had never expected.

Instead of the scenario of killing him that he had drawn in his imagination, a number of worshipers came to him and took his weapon away with which he wanted to kill them. Then an Afghan citizen named Muhammad Bahrami, one of the founders of the Islamic Center, came forward and hugged him and burst into tears.

“To this day, it still doesn’t make sense to me!” McKinney says of that moment.

Shifting from one extreme to the other

McKinney met in the Islamic centre in his city and then in the Muslim community a number of people who helped him dispel his anger until he felt guilty for what he intended to do.

One of them was Jomo Williams, an African-American who lived in a McKinney-like state of hostility after the “white occupiers” executed and castrated his great-grandfather and he held hostility towards whites until he converted to Islam.

He then met a woman he called “Mother Teresa”, from the Muslim community in Muncie, the wife of the Afghani Muhammad Bahrami, who greeted McKinney with a hug for the first time.

Photo: Social Media

Mother Teresa also knew the damage war can cause. Her family was displaced in Afghanistan when the Soviet Union invaded it in 1979, she fled her country and lived six years in a refugee camp in Pakistan before she married and made her way to the United States.

McKinney continued to visit Bahrami and others at the Islamic Center, read the Holy Quran and made friends with Muslims through whom he learned about Islam and its teachings.

Eight months after McKinney’s first visit to the mosque, he converted to Islam. After the ceremony, he was greeted with what he called a “big hug pit” from people he once intended to harm. 

Eventually, McKinney served as president of the Islamic Center in Muncie for two years and became an advocate of Islam.

Stranger at the gate

Richard McKinney’s story has become the subject of a short documentary, Stranger at the Gate. The film, which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, tells how McKinney abandoned his plan and ended up converting to Islam and even taking a surprising role in the mosque.

The film recounts the astonishing behaviour of Muhammad Bahrami, an Afghani and co-founder of the centre, who hugged Richard and then burst into tears.

The film’s director, Joshua Seiftel, presents his film in his “Secret Lives of Muslims” video series on the Internet and says that Richard McKinney’s story gave him hope that he could bridge some of the deepest divisions in the United States.


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