Hundreds rally to support Muslim community

DOVER — More than 200 people gathered by Legislative Hall Wednesday to show support for Muslims — members of the community who serve as soldiers, teachers, police officers and more, speakers said.

The rally — organized by a coalition of Muslim groups — was established largely in response to the national climate, they said. They noted many Americans mistrust Islam, its beliefs and intentions.

At the same time, the inauguration of President Trump has, they said, stoked fears among some Muslims.

In addition, earlier this month state Sens. Dave Lawson and Colin Bonini, both Republicans, protested the reading of a portion of the Quran on the Senate floor. Sen. Lawson objected because the Quran “advocates for our very demise.”

The comments drew rebuke from some Delawareans, but praise from others. Usman Sandhu insisted Wednesday the rally was not organized as a reaction, although the incident did “put it on a fast track.”

Javeria Ahmed holds a sign during the Unity Rally in Support of Delaware Muslim-American Community at Legislative Mall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“You just want to bring everybody together, Muslims, Christians, Jews … We just wanted to show people we’re businessmen, we’re doctors, we’re engineers, just like the speakers told you earlier, that we are part of this American fabric,” said Mr. Sandhu, a co-founder of the United Muslims Americans of Delaware.
Dozens of people carried signs and miniature American flags. Some signs called for unity, while others stated that Muslims are proud Americans.

Don Peterson, a Democrat who described himself as a “progressive social activist” when he ran against House Speaker Peter Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth) in the primary last year, held a sign that stated “speak out against religious bigotry.”

A Muslim girl holds a sign during the Support for Delaware Muslim-American Community Unity Rally at Legislative Mall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The sign included pictures of Republican Sens. Lawson and Bonini.

Mr. Peterson, asked what he thought of the turnout, said it sends a message.

“I think it says Bonini and Lawson are wrong, that the majority of us here in Delaware support religious freedom, we support and respect other religions, those that are religious and those that are non-religious and that we want to speak out when we are aware of any kind of bigotry, especially among our elected officials,” he said.

Sen. Lawson declined to comment.

Sen. Bonini said he was grateful the First Amendment allows any sort of free speech — a right he noted some Muslim-majority countries lack.

No speaker explicitly referenced the comments by Sens. Lawson and Bonini, instead offering broad messages of “tolerance.”

Rabbi Michael Beals, acting chairman of the governor’s Council on Faith-Based Partnership, said people must stand up for what he called the marginalized members of society.

A crowd lift their signs during the Support for Delaware Muslim-American Community Unity Rally at Legislative Mall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Referencing the Holocaust, Rabbi Beals urged listeners to fight prejudice and defend others.

“Those who failed to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” he said.

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, agreed, saying America cannot be governed by what she called hate.

“All faith and cultures have a place in our First State,” she said.

No one mentioned President Trump by name, although a few did allude to his policies, including executive orders that blocked residents of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country.

Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, took the podium briefly, thanking those in the crowd for attending and calling for inclusion.

Muslim girls hold American flags during the Support for Delaware Muslim-American Community Unity Rally at Legislative Mall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Inclusion was the message of the day, as speakers encouraged the many Delawareans present to be accepting of everyone.

“There is only one race. It is the human race, and all of us are created equally,” said Imam Abdul Hadi of the Islamic Society of Delaware.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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