What’s the best way to support the local Muslim community?
Get to know a Muslim.
“Better still, get to know more than one,” said Mustafa Mohamedali, social secretary for the Islamic Center of Olympia.
At least two-dozen guests attended Friday’s prayer sermon at the Islamic Center’s mosque, 4324 20th Lane NE, to show support for the local Muslim community following President Donald Trump’s executive order that bans immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations.
In contrast to the fearful feelings induced by the executive order, the message at Friday’s gathering was one of peace, understanding and gratitude.
“It’s very reassuring and heartwarming,” Mohamedali said. “As individuals, we have a lot of experiences that are not positive.”
Congregants at the Islamic Center have shared stories about children being bullied for their Muslim faith, for example, or women enduring harassment for wearing a hijab in a grocery store. But there also are stories of strangers speaking up and coming to their defense in these situations.
Likewise, many in the Olympia community continue to send flowers and cards to the mosque, offering words of encouragement while denouncing the federal government’s controversial actions:
“We wanted to let you know we will do what we can to support you and your right to religious freedom.”
“I want you to know that I feel proud to share America with you.”
“Love casts out fear.”
“I promise to raise my daughter to ‘love her neighbor as thyself’ and I pray to the heavens that all of our children may have the right to practice their religion without fear of persecution.”
Among the guests for prayer and conversation Friday were about 25 supporters from the Olympia chapter of SURJ, which stands for Showing Up for Racial Justice. Other guests came from the Olympia YWCA and the Buddhist community.
SURJ participants gathered to show solidarity against what some say is a growing threat of violence and hateful rhetoric directed toward Muslims across the country. Olympia resident Ashleigh Debuse, who was raised in the Mormon community, encouraged other non-Muslims to leave their comfort zones and better understand Muslim life during these turbulent political times.
“This is something all communities are dealing with,” Debuse said. Friday she heard her first Muslim sermon.
Leading the sermon was Imam Sophiyan Sen, who acknowledged the way politics has been dominating daily life and social media. Even before the presidential election, he said, many Muslims have been afraid to visit a store, show identification, or wear a hijab. He urged the congregation to believe in themselves and their faith — and respond to injustice with words of kindness.
“We don’t plan on going anywhere,” Sen told participants in Friday’s group conversation, praising them for having the courage to visit the mosque. “No matter what country you’re in or who is the leader, God will always protect us.”
About the mosque
The Islamic Center of Olympia mosque is on land purchased in 1992 by several Cham refugees from Cambodia. The Cham people are an ethnic group from Southeast Asia who practice Islam. Nearly 100,000 Cham people were killed in the mid- to late 1970s during the Cambodian genocide, which was orchestrated by the ruling Khmer Rouge party. The 1984 film “The Killing Fields” is based on the regime’s atrocities.
Although many of the mosque’s members live within walking distance as part of the Cham settlement, worshippers also come from as far away as Aberdeen, Lakewood and Chehalis. Social secretary Mustafa Mohamedali said about 40 ethnicities are represented at the Islamic Center of Olympia.
The Olympia area is home to about 500 American Muslim families. There are about 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, with about 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States — about 1 percent of the nation’s population.
Learn more about Muslims in America
Professor Turan Kayaoglu of the University of Washington-Tacoma will present a program on the history of Muslims in America from 4-6 p.m. Monday at the Lacey Timberland Library, 500 College St. SE. Kyaoglu will discuss the politics of immigration and citizenship along with how American Muslims have shaped the country. Presented by Humanities Washington, the event is free and open to the public. To learn more, call 360-491-3860.