As some Muslims – and the mosques they worship in – have been subjected to racism, bigotry and hate, a man in Texas has been standing outside an Islamic center near Dallas, spreading a positive and powerful message.
It’s not clear who the man is, or what sparked his sympathy, but a photo of him has swept social media. It shows the man, with a white beard and wearing a white cowboy hat, holding up a sign outside the Islamic Center of Irving:
“You Belong. Stay Strong,” the sign reads. “Be Blessed. We Are One America.”
An Islamic Center of Irving representative said Monday that the man had been seen outside the mosque the past several days, sympathizing with the Muslim community during a time of fear over what a Donald Trump presidency will mean for followers of the faith.
During the campaign, Trump proposed a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States; he later backtracked, calling instead for a suspension on immigration from countries “compromised by terrorism.” But since Trump’s election, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, reported that there have been some 100 anti-Muslim incidents across the country.
Numerous mosques in California and one in Georgia were recently targeted with letters threatening that Trump will do to Muslims what Adolf Hitler “did to the Jews,” according to CAIR.
Irving and its Islamic Center have struggled with their own anti-Islam incidents.
The city, about 15 miles from Dallas, has a small but growing Muslim population of thousands among the city’s 232,000 residents.
As The Washington Post reported in 2015, Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne criticized a Muslim mediation panel rumored to be set up in an Irving mosque to settle civil disputes using Sharia law – which opponents worried would lead to practices and punishments seen in some Muslim countries, as well as clash with America’s constitutional rights. Van Duyne began referring to the tribunal as a “court” and warned that foreign law cannot be applied when it “violates public policy, statutory, or federal laws.”
Irving’s mosque “categorically” denied hosting a court, stating that its imam acted as an arbitrator on a tribunal in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Then there was Ahmed Mohamed.
The teenage boy, whose family worshiped at the Irving mosque, was arrested when he brought a homemade clock to school – igniting national outrage.
The mosque is also the site where demonstrators gathered late last year, armed with long guns and signs proposing to “Stop the Islamization of America,” the Dallas Morning News’s Avi Selk reported at the time. The anti-Muslim protests followed the Islamic State terrorist attacks in Paris that killed at least 130 people and injured hundreds of others in November 2015.
The protest’s organizer, David Wright, also published names and addresses for “every Muslim and Muslim sympathizer that stood up for . . . Sharia tribunals in Irving,” according to the newspaper.
The photo showing the supporter of Muslims outside the mosque was posted over the weekend on Reddit and Twitter, and has since been shared widely on social media. Although the response turned largely political, some commenters said the image gave them hope.
“That picture made me burst into tears. So much power in hope, inclusion, community,” one of them wrote on Twitter.
One added: “It made me feel hopeful, which hasn’t been easy to do lately.”
“What I needed. A candle in the dark,” another person wrote. “Bless him.”