Store's sign causes controversy

HOUSTON It was a sign to let his customers know he would be closed to commemorate a religious event. But that's not the message some Houstonians got from the note.

The sign was posted on a store at the Harwin Central Mart. What it said caused so much controversy it's been blogged about on the Internet and store managers have been threatened and harassed.

Store manager Imran Chunawala said, "It's definitely been blown out of proportion."

Chunawala displays the same sign every year on the door of his perfume store. It says they will be closed on September 11 to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ali.

To customers like Pam Reeder, the sign was confusing, especially staring her in the face on the anniversary of the most deadly attack on US soil.

She said, "I would be offended by that and I probably wouldn't go into the store again."

"The real meaning would not mean any disrespect," Chunawala said. "We did not mean any offense to anyone."

"Imam" is just a word for 'religious leader.' "Ali" is an important figure in the Islamic religion, particularly to Shiite Muslims.

Islamic scholar Naeem Abdulwali explained, "He's not just any person in their history and in their hierarchy of imams, he is the imam after the prophet."

Imam Ali died on the 21st day of Ramadan in the year 661AD. It's a somber and significant holy day for Muslims. This year it coincidentally fell on September 11.

"If people thought that that's what this was about, I apologize," Chunawala said. "That was not what this was about. I'm clarifying once again and I seriously am sorry for any misunderstanding that this caused."

The building manager told me he has received between 10-20 calls a day, plus faxes and emails. They have displayed an apology inside explaining the role of Imam Ali and the significance of that day to Muslims.

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