Located on Chicago's North side, the Shan Restaurant is a popular Pakistani bistro that has become a choice hangout for the city's South Asian community.
It's a particular favorite of Pakistani Muslims.
One of the most frequent visitors there is Ifti Nasim, a 52-year-old Pakistani poet and author. Nasim, who pens a column in a national newspaper called The Pakistan Express, is also one of the eatery's most colorful and controversial customers. His column is often biting social and political commentary on behalf of what he calls "the underclass."
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Nasim, who is fond of heavy jewelry and even dressed in drag for the cover of his latest collection of poems, has also used his column to speak openly and frankly about his gayness, and the discrimination he and other South Asian gays and lesbians continue to battle.
But when Nasim strolled into the Shan Restaurant on the evening of Monday, March 12, he could have no idea that his activism was about to make him a target of anti-gay violence.
Nasim had just ordered take-out lamb curry and roti-;a round, flat bread-;when he noticed a gang of friends dining in the restaurant. They motioned him over, and Nasim instructed the waiter to have his food brought to the table rather than bagged to go.
Once he joined his band of friends, however, Nasim felt uneasy. Among the group was a man named Salman Aftab, with whom Nasim had sparred in the past. According to Nasim, it didn't take long for Aftab to start harassing him about being openly gay.
Nasim says Aftab accused him of being an embarrassment to South Asians and Muslims because he was "too visible" with his sexuality. "Look, I'm a Muslim, too," Nasim responded in defense.
That's when, Nasim says, Aftab's "tone and language changed 180 degrees." It shifted from unpleasant to threatening, according to Nasim.
Nasim says Aftab told him, "I'm going to stab you up the ass to tell God I'm getting rid of at least one sinner! I want to clean up the planet after your type!"
Nasim was stunned. "It was a shock to hear my own countryman refer to me as 'your type,'" he says. Nasim explains that Pakistanis, and South Asians in general, are used to hearing broad, prejudiced comments from Americans about them as a group of people. Nasim and many others who were at the restaurant table that night spend much of their time battling such xenophobia. To hear words like that allegedly coming from another Pakistani was particularly painful.
But the worst of the attack wasn't over.
By Nasim's account, Aftab disappeared to the kitchen, and returned allegedly wielding a menacing knife.
Uttering the word "gandoo"-;which roughly translates as "faggot bottom"-;and declaring an Islamic "jihad" against Nasim and gay Muslims, Aftab then allegedly lurched at Nasim. Two restaurant employees restrained Aftab while Nasim dashed to a phone and dialed 911.
Attempts to contact Aftab for comment were unsuccessful.
By the time police arrived, Nasim was waiting by his car in front of the restaurant. Aftab was still inside, and Nasim was frightened to remain near him. Nasim thought the police presence signaled an end to his scary ordeal. But he was wrong.
According to Nasim, an officer took his statement, then went inside to interview Aftab. When the officer came back, he allegedly told Nasim the whole thing just appeared to be "an ethnic problem" between two Pakistanis. The officer wasn't even going to take Nasim's complaint.
Incensed, Nasim then spoke with another officer, who agreed to file a simple assault complaint but who refused to mark the incident as a hate crime, claims Nasim. "If I was an American white guy, I think the police would have acted differently," believes Nasim.
Aftab was arrested, but is now out on bail. Before the incident, Nasim rarely crossed paths with Aftab. Since, he has spotted Aftab twice in one week, and worries about being shadowed and targeted for a future attack.
"I'm a highly visible person," he said. "I can't look over my shoulder all the time."
And Nasim is not the only one frightened. Faisal Alam, founder and president of the national gay Muslim group Al-Fatiha ( which is the name of the first chapter of the Koran, and which means "Beginnings," ) says he and his organization receive a small but steady stream of threats. "It both hurts and makes me angry that some of our supposed Muslim brothers and sisters are taking the name of Islam and twisting it against us."
It has been a constant battle to get gay and lesbian Muslims to come out because of cultural reasons, he says. The assault on Nasim-;an outspoken and well-known gay Muslim-;will "definitely raise more alarm" and keep other gay and lesbian Muslims deep in the closet, he worries.
But fear is just one of the many complicated emotions that has gripped Nasim and other gay Muslims in the aftermath of the confrontation. While Nasim's faith as a Muslim has not been shaken, he regrets that after all his activism in the South Asian community, "it still boils down to me being a 'faggot bottom'"
Nasim and Alam also fret over how American gays and lesbians will view the attack. "When a Christian person does something like this, the American gay public just brushes it aside as a right-wing zealot," says Alam. "They certainly don't attribute it to mainstream teachings of Jesus or Christianity. But when it's a Muslim, all of Islam will be condemned."
Alam and Nasim concede that many imams, or Muslim clerics, teach that homosexuality is a sin. "But so do an awful lot of rabbis and preachers," points out Nasim. "Can you show me a single religion that sings the praises of gay people?"
Both men are equally adamant that any Islamic teaching against homosexuality is a matter of disputable religious interpretation.
"I believe there are many reasons I was created gay and Muslim, and they are all good," says Nasim. "My homosexuality is between me and my God."
The court date for the case, which has still not been classified as a hate crime, is May 1.