Publish Date:
Sun, 01/22/2017 - 13:52

Amid unrest toward Muslims, 'Day of solidarity' created in show of unity

The people stood at each of the mosque's three entrances gripping posters coated with heart shapes and letters spelling phrases of support: "We are one." "We stand with you."

They awaited those arriving for the afternoon prayer at the Muslim American Society Katy Center. As people streamed in, the group waved and handed them pins with more heart shapes.

"We just want to give love to our neighbors," they told those arriving.

"Thank you so much," one mosque-goer said. "This is beautiful."

At a time when calls have arisen to ban all Muslims from entering the country and while hate crimes targeting Islam have jumped, Muslims throughout the nation have expressed new fears, which have been elevated since the presidential election of Donald Trump. As a counterpoint, this group of about 25 people at the MAS Katy Center gathered on the bitterly cold Friday to illustrate a message of unity.

Kristin Miller, a 50-year-old Katy resident who works at a fine arts nonprofit, organized the gathering largely through social media, calling it a "day of solidarity." The event came in direct response to the negativity she said Muslims have felt lately, particularly during the election season.

"When we understand people, and we talk to them and have that dialogue, then we come to love them more," Miller said. "When we love them, we all come together as a community. Hate gets too much attention."

During his campaign, President-elect Trump discussed having a Muslim registry and called on all Muslims to be banned from entering the United States until "our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on" in relation to terror threats, a statement he walked back but which some Muslims still fear.

Many Americans have grown weary towards Muslims because of groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, which has become notorious for carrying out acts of terror throughout the Middle East in the name of Islam and influenced individuals in western countries to follow suit.

In the day's after Trump's Nov. 8 election, hate crimes, which are defined as being motivated by prejudice, reportedly spiked across U.S. school campuses and elsewhere. Incidents included stories by female Muslim students saying people attempted to remove their head coverings.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation also said in their latest hate crime report that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S. rose about 67 percent from 154 incidents in 2014 to 257 in 2015. Overall hate crimes increased by 6.8 percent in the same time frame.

While Houston is an area that typically celebrates its diverse population, its Muslim citizenry remains troubled by the rise in hate crimes.

"After the elections, we felt so much despair. Like, 'what's going to happen?'" said Nafisa Munshi, the center's outreach coordinator. "This event gives me hope."

Munshi and her colleagues are no strangers to discrimination. In 2006, when the center was established, the owner of a next-door business began hosting pig races on Fridays after a dispute with the center's leaders. Although the quarrel was later settled, the action was highly offensive because of Islam's dietary prohibition of eating pork and because Muslim's holiest prayer days are Fridays.

Not surprisingly, Friday's gathering couldn't escape some politics.

Two individuals supporting a national movement named "Refuse Fascism" that opposes the coming presidency of Trump stood guard outside of the mosque with signs that read: "No! Stop this fascist Trump-Pence regime before it starts. No! Muslim Registry!"

Inside the mosque, Dr.Main Al-Qudah, a visiting Imam from the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America, spoke a message of unity to a congregation of dozens of mostly men.

"Without having harmony amongst each other, we cannot live with one another," Al-Qudah told the crowd. "In 2016 and 2015, and (years past), there was a period of unrest. We hope to make 2017 a year of love and hope. What you are experiencing today within our community is what I call the mainstream American values. The value of love. The value of care, and compassion, and accommodation, and loyalty and a sense of belonging. They call it, 'day of solidarity.' They want to tell us we are welcome here in this society."

The congregation kneeled together on golden carpet as a melody in Arabic rang trough speakers.

Miller had hoped for the non-Muslims that attended to experience the cultural difference in order to form a better understanding. She plans to take the same "day of solidarity" concept to Houston-area facilities that represent other backgrounds and religions.

After the prayer, Miller and her group handed out more pins as people dispersed.

One went to Mohammad Kader, 77, who had been talking to 69-year-old Katy resident Stephen Blackmore. Blackmore, who is not Muslim, had learned about the event through Facebook and decided he needed to show his support for Muslims.

"We shouldn't demonize a certain group of people," Blackmore said to a group that included Kader. "We need to all have solidarity."

"What these people did is important," Kader responded. "It shows humanity."