Muslims gather with elected officials at Virginia mosque to voice concerns, seek support after the election

Muslims gather with elected officials at Virginia mosque to voice concerns, seek support after the election

November 11
The worshippers poured into the Friday midday prayer service at the Dar al Hijrah Center in Falls Church, spilling off the red prayer mats and onto the marble floor. Reeling from the election results, many were seeking solace — from each other and from community leaders and elected officials, including the Virginia attorney general, who had come to support them.

After the imam’s sermon, the visitors stepped up one by one to vow that, in the wake of the election as Muslims and other minorities around the country faced increased harassment and intimidation, they would stand with the Muslim community.

“I’m a white man, and the people that put the person in power that now has us concerned come from where I came from — poor working class communities,” Reverend Scott Sammler-Michael of the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Burke, Va. told worshipers from Northern Virginia and beyond.

“I must admit I was surprised at the amount of acceptance of such a nasty message that we had from a presidential candidate,” he said. “So I’m here to tell you that you have allies in white working class communities.” Urging more frequent contact between the Muslim community and his own, he added, “You are not just my friends, you are my fellow citizens.”

Over the past year, Muslim children in local public schools have been harrassed and beaten up and accused of being members of the Islamic State, said Colin Christopher, the mosque’s deputy director of government affairs. Now, he said, “People are alarmed, but this community is strong, and our strength comes from our partners and our relationships.”

Standing before the congregation, which had swelled to about 1,500 from its usual Friday midday attendance of around 1,200, Sandy Evans, chair of the Fairfax County school board, promised to protect their children.

“We will not allow any bullying, we will not allow harassment of your children, your children will be safe at school,” she said, and urged anyone hearing of any problems to go to school officials and also to come to her personally.

Attorney General Mark Herring vowed to “work as hard as I can to defend and to protect your civil liberties.”

Many speakers shared their own disappointment and anger over the election results.

Delegate Alfonso Lopez of Fairfax County told the worshipers, many of whom are also immigrants, of his father’s arrival to the U.S. from Central America at age 19 “for a better life.” After the election, “he questioned to me for the first time what America is, and I tell you, that made me more upset than I’ve been for many years.”

Leaving the service, Sugiono Sugiarto, 47, said hearing the officials made him feel a little better. An immigrant from Indonesia who has lived in the U.S. since 2000, he had been floored by the election results.

“My wife is Jewish, we’ve raised them with both religions, and it’s really scary for us,” he said, standing with his two children outside the mosque.

“The night that I heard Donald Trump was elected I discussed with my wife, how are we going to tell the kids?” His voice grew thick with tears and he shook his head. “My wife said we’ve got to tell them that the people man the people chose and elected for president is full of anger, full of hatred.”

Kamal Kamal, 41, who immigrated from Morocco in 2000, compared the feelings of fear to post-9-11. “But in the 9-11 time, all the U.S. had that kind of fear, but now it’s like only minorities who have it,” he said as his 10-year-old son, Anas, listened.

“This was something that I was not expecting. It’s a really good thing that these people came out and are bringing their support.”

As people streamed out of the mosque, strangers smiled at each other and some shook hands or offered hugs. Elizabeth Lower-Basch, who lives nearby, had never been to Dar al Hijrah before, but had the day off and decided to attend the service with her husband.

“I heard about it and it just seemed important to show up,” she said. “It terrifies me that our leaders feel they need to say the things they did today. It should be obvious, but it’s not.”

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2018-05-16T19:55:17-04:00
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