Terrorism elsewhere strikes fear in Muslims here
Imagine a total stranger, apparently assuming he knows who and what you are, walking up and saying, “Go back to your own country. We don’t want you here.”
Aziz Junejo, who has been writing a Worship column for the Beacon for 20 years, said he and his family – particularly his wife and his daughters, who wear the traditional headscarves – are more and more suffering through those kinds of uncomfortable encounters.
“It’s very scary for Muslims now,” Junejo said. “These kinds of incidents are happening every day.”
Open expressions of hate, he said, have increased since the election of Donald J. Trump, who has talked about banning Muslims from entering the country and establishing a registry for those who are already here.
Whenever there’s a terrorist attack, such as the Dec. 19 attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, American Muslims recoil, knowing some will associate them with those terrorists, he said.
One of Junejo’s daughters, who attends the University of Washington, has been surrounded by men on campus who yell horrifying things, pull on her hijab and demand she leave America, he said.
Another time, Junejo and his daughter were at the ferry dock when a man walked up and verbally attacked her, saying, “Why don’t you people go home?”
The attacker didn’t realize Junejo, who was dressed in typical Western garb, was with her. Junejo chastised the attacker, telling him his daughter was home.
Riaz Ahmed Khan, a Mukilteo resident who has become the face of the Islamic Center of Mukilteo project, agreed that Muslims are more fearful. Women who wear the hijab or people who have Muslim-sounding names are more alert to the possibility of negative encounters, he said.
Partly because of his increasing involvement in the community – his 2015 run for the City Council, for example – Khan said he feels Mukilteans have become more open to learning about the Islamic faith.
“People respect me here,” he said. “’Oh, he’s the mosque guy,’ they say.
“But other Muslims,” he admits, “are having a more difficult time.”
Should the president-elect follow through on his proposal to require all Muslims to register, Junejo fears it will further alienate millions of American Muslims – citizens whose support is needed more than ever in combating terror attacks, he said.
Junejo suggested that simple communication between people locally can help overcome misunderstandings and fears.
In his own neighborhood, for example, Junejo has been reaching out to his neighbors; they, in turn, have been doing the same, he said.
“We want to show people that we’re just like them, that we have the same aspirations for our country,” he said.
A couple in his neighborhood, an Anglo-American husband and a Japanese-American wife, have hosted get-togethers where neighbors can get to know each other better.
Junejo said the wife’s parents, both American citizens, were interned during World War II, so she is particularly sensitive to the mistakes that people can make when fear overtakes reason.
Khan is confident that should the incoming administration try to single out a particular segment of Americans, as was done to people of Japanese ancestry during WWII, such as implementing a registry for Muslims, the judicial system, backed by the constitution, will block it.
“The courts will decide,” Khan said.
Meanwhile, Khan said Mukilteo’s Muslim community has been instrumental in promoting tolerance and understanding. Earlier this month, the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission presented the 2016 “Racism. It Stops With Me” award to the Islamic Center of Mukilteo.
Community outreach efforts will continue with a town hall meeting on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the Pointe of Grace church.
At that meeting, Khan said he plans to introduce for the first time the board of directors of the Islamic Center. Along with local Christian leaders, including Pointe of Grace Pastor John Beck and retired Pacific Lutheran University professor and Mukilteo resident Paul Ingram, Khan hopes to have an open conversation with Mukilteo residents about Islam.
“Muslims in America are trying to build bridges,” Khan said. “It’s not a good idea for anyone to bring more hate right now.”