Mosque Shooter Ted Hakey Jr. and mosque leader Zahir Mannan Borderless

Mosque Leader Befriends Mosque Shooter

It's an odd couple that only came together when the apps were closed and the conversation flowed.

Former Marine, Ted Hakey Jr., is close friends with local mosque leader, Zahir Mannan. Hakey says his friendship with Mannan is so tight he tells him secrets he won’t even discuss with some of his other closest friends.

But these two definitely weren’t always this close. In fact, before they’d met, and just a day after the Paris attacks, an intoxicated Hakey shot 30 bullets into the mosque Mannan belonged to in Meriden, CT.  Luckily, it was the middle of the night and no one was in the mosque.

Before his sentencing, he asked to meet the mosque leaders to apologize. Their willingness to meet him without negative judgment and their willingness to listen completely shifted Hakey’s perspective on this community he, up until then, knew almost nothing about.



Mannan visited Hakey every other week in prison and even gifted Hakey his grandfather’s Quran. Now released, Hakey enjoys reading about Islam and having discussions with Mannan about it.

Every week the mosque invites the public in for coffee, cake, and conversation. Hakey encourages his community to join in. “I feel that I owe them just to get it out there so that people don’t make the same mistake that I did,” Hakey told NBC Connecticut.

This story gets us all wondering: Can we avoid the negative starts and head straight to the friendships in the future?

Hakey said his negative view of Islam stemmed from social media. Each day he was exposed to anti-Muslim rhetoric and, regrettably, a lot of it stuck. One of many ways we can help shift this is to make sure social media is full of positive stories about people of all backgrounds. And if a local venue or religious space offers up their version of ‘coffee, cake, and conversation’ – go.

Step one – hit share. Cheers. 


Zahir Mannan and Ted Hakey embrace at the Baitul Aman “House of Peace” Mosque after Ted’s apology to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. (Peter Casolino/Special to the Courant)

Narrative 4 Uses ‘Story Exchange’ to Change the World

The group's ingenious storytelling exercises are shortcuts to cultivating empathy.

Narrative 4 is an education-focused organization that promotes a curriculum centered on a ‘culture of care’. This means, in essence, helping kids cultivate deep empathy for others. Studies agree that putting yourself in another person’s shoes can, in turn, make you a better person.

“By bringing people together through storytelling, we will build a new narrative for immigration, for the environment, for peace. Our narrative is for change, for fearless hope, and for radical empathy,” Narrative 4’s site explains.

The main tools in their kit consist of language and literature, two forces that history proves immensely powerful. They ask pairs of participants—often individuals with very different experiences—to do a “story exchange”. Each person hears a story about the other person and then retells it in the first person, effectively reliving their partner’s experience.



Photo: Narrative 4 Website


“If I can hear your story deeply enough to retell it in my own words as if it happened to me and, you can do the same for my story, then we will have seen the world through each other’s eyes,” they state.

With sponsors like Esquire, HBO, and Amazon, and partnerships with several other organizations, Narrative 4 has roots all over the world—including chapters in Ireland, South Africa, Mexico, New York, and Connecticut.

Their chapter in Connecticut, established in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, is a reminder that empathy and unrelenting hope actually do create change, even when it seems impossible at first.


Colum McCann – Democracy of Storytelling from Narrative 4 on Vimeo.

Feature photo: Narrative 4 Instagram.

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