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Don't Be Afraid, Assaulted Astoria Shop Owner Tells Fellow Muslims

 Dozens gathered at Fatima Food Mart Thursday for a rally in support of Sarker Haque.
Rally for Sarker Haque
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DITMARS — The Astoria shop owner attacked earlier this week in what police are investigating as a possible hate crime spoke at a rally of support Thursday morning, imploring fellow Muslims to "not be afraid."

"I was attacked because I was Muslim," Sarker Haque, 52, said to the crowd outside Fatima Food Mart on 21st Avenue and and 23rd Street.

"Muslims are not terrorists. We are American Muslims," he said. "I ask all my Muslim brothers and sisters to not be afraid."

Dozens had gathered in front of his store for a rally organized by local elected officials in support of Haque, who police say was assaulted in his shop Saturday afternoon by 55-year-old Piro Kolvani.

Haque previously told DNAinfo that Kolvani came into the store, looked at newspapers — including one that featured a photo of a suspect in the San Bernardino, Calif. shooting on its cover — before walking around the shop asking if items were free.

Haque said the attacker then punched him, saying "I kill Muslims" as he pummeled the shop owner for several minutes until another customer came to his aid and police arrived. Kolvani was arrested for assault, police said.

In a short speech to the crowd Thursday morning, Haque thanked the NYPD and those who turned out to support him.

His voice broke with emotion as he spoke of coming to America when he was 21 years old and of raising his five children in Astoria, where he's owned his store for 16 years.

"This country gave me everything," he said.

Several elected officials condemned the attack as out of character for the culturally diverse neighborhood.

"I know this does not represent Astoria," public advocate Letitia James told the crowd.

Elected officials said the incident was one in a string of anti-Muslim incidents that have taken place recently across the nation, including one where someone left a severed pig head outside a mosque in Philadelphia. Several also referenced Donald Trump and his recent anti-Islamic rhetoric.

"In this neighborhood, the nonsense that Donald Trump is spewing is not welcome," Astoria City Councilman Costa Constantinides said.

The rally was one of several events organized in Astoria in support of the longtime shop owner, and residents also started a Facebook group called Love Fatima Food Mart.

Haque said he's been given drawings from neighborhood children in the days since the attack. During his speech, someone handed him a bouquet of flowers with a card attached that said "love will overcome."

"I was horrified when I saw that this happened here," said Colette Martin, a native Astorian who attended the rally, where she held a sign that bore the hashtag #standwithsarker. "That's not what we're about."