Religious leaders meet in show of support for Muslims

One week after an anti-Muslim letter made local waves and national headlines, interfaith leaders and residents gathered at the Islamic Center of Claremont (ICC) to show support.

The gathering Wednesday evening included local religious leaders as well as city officials such as Claremont Mayor Sam Pedroza and Pomona Mayor-elect Tim Sandoval. Mr. Pedroza called for unity and support for all faiths and cultures.

“What we’re saying here tonight is ‘Hey, this is not going to happen in our place,’ and this is our place,” Mr. Pedroza said.

Dozens of people were in attendance, so much so that extra chairs had to be brought in to accommodate everyone. ICC President Basem Aweinat noted that he was not expecting that many people to show up.

“This shows how strong this country is,” he said, adding that the majority of Americans stand for justice and freedom.

ICC was one of several California mosques that received hateful anti-Muslim letters on November 23. The letter called Muslims the “children of Satan” and warned of a “new sheriff in town” in the form of President-elect Donald Trump, according to a statement from the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA)

The letter went on to say that American Muslims should “get out of Dodge” and that Mr. Trump was “going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.” The letter was signed on behalf of a group called “Americans for a Better Way.”

CAIR-LA called on local law enforcement to ramp up security efforts for local mosques in the Los Angeles area. The FBI as well as the LAPD have been working on locating the source of the letters ever since.

Joe Salas, a liaison for ICC, said in a previous interview that the letter was delivered in the mail with a fake Claremont return address and a stamp from San Jose. They went public with the letter at the urging of CAIR.

Mr. Salas said that ICC has received hateful statements in the past, but never a direct threat of physical violence.

“We do have a fulltime school, so a lot of our parents have been concerned by the safety of their children,” he said. “We have been advising mosque members to be more vigilant to see anything out of the ordinary and take great precautions around the mosque.”

CAIR-LA is offering a similar approach, telling Muslims around the Los Angeles area to “take extra security precautions” and offering free copies of a book on how to safely worship. CAIR noted that since the November 8 election, hate crimes against Muslims have spiked, with more than 100 incidents documented by CAIR and over 700 additional incidents against minority groups logged by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

At Wednesday’s gathering, Anas Al Smadi, the treasurer for ICC and one of the first people to open the letter, described how it affected him. When summoned to the stage by ICC member Mahmoud Tarifi, he became emotional when he relayed how he felt when he read the note.

Cantor Paul Buch of Temple Beth Israel, who has been a leader in Claremont’s interfaith community, called the note “frightening” and an unfortunate example of the hostile climate marginalized communities face in America.

“We do understand there are organized groups who are determined to create an uncomfortable climate for marginalized groups,” Mr. Buch said in a prior interview. “We have to come together as a community to resist that.”

As for the author or authors of the letter, Mr. Salas said that if he were ever to meet them, he would have a clear message.

“I would invite them to our mosque to meet some Muslims, because oftentimes people fear what they don’t understand or don’t know,” he said. “I’d probably invite them over for a nice dinner and break bread with this person or group of people and share fellowship with them.”

At the interfaith gathering Wednesday night, community members from all faiths stood up and offered support and discussed what needs to be done in the wake of the threatening letters.

Mariela Martinez, a student at the University of La Verne who tutors children at ICC, created a letter-writing campaign for students to offer support for ICC and Muslims across the region. One of the letters came from an anonymous writer who voted for Mr. Trump, but rejected the anti-Muslim acts done in his name.

Rabbi Zev-Hayyim Feyer noted that whenever he hears Mr. Trump say “Muslim,” he thinks of Jews.

“We stand with you,” Rabbi Feyer said. “Any time bigotry rises, I’m with you standing with the oppressed, whoever the oppressed may be.”

The gathering was a prime example of a community coming together to show solidarity, a notion that Mr. Salas holds dear.

“I believe when there is a threat to the body, the whole body should respond,” he said. “We are peace-loving communities and we support each other when one of us is under attack.”

—Matthew Bramlett


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