When worshippers gathered on Nov. 11 for an afternoon service at the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, they looked to renew their faith not just in their god, but in their country.
After an Election Day that ended in victory for then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Muslims across the U.S. woke up the morning of Nov.9 to confront a world in which their fellow citizens had elected a man who’d suggested a ban on Muslim immigrants to the nation’s highest political office.
President-elect Trump ran against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on a platform that many criticized as racist, xenophobic and misogynist. His campaign attracted controversy after nearly a dozen women alleged that Trump sexually harassed them, and it was forced to denounce the Ku Klux Klan when the white supremacist group’s newspaper The Crusader gave the former reality TV star an official endorsement.
In addition to proposing building a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in the wake of the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 people and was committed by a Muslim American couple.
Trump’s website still lists a border wall among his proposed immigration policies. The foreign policy section emphasizes plans to defeat “radical Islamic terrorism,” including establishing new immigration screening procedures and temporarily suspending immigration from “regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism.”
The dominant reaction to Trump’s win among many Muslim Americans as been one of fear and uncertainty, and Fairfax County residents are no exception.
About 1,500 people convened at Dar al Hijrah on Nov. 11 for its weekly midday Friday service, which usually attracts around 1,200 congregants, according to an article in The Washington Post by Tara Bahrampour.
However, this wasn’t a standard service.
After an imam led the congregation in a khootbah, or Islamic sermon, the mosque’s leadership invited a series of local political and religious officials to address the crowd for a “Forging Forward Together” rally.
“We may be anxious. We may be saddened. We may be disappointed, but we know we cannot be helpless,” Dr. Esam Omeish, a member of Dar al Hijrah’s board of directors, told the congregation. “…We will overcome bigotry, racism, hate, because we know that our belief gives us the strength to be able to move forward [and] reach out to everybody who must make this country better.”
The rally kicked off with an expression of interfaith solidarity from Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael from the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Burke.
Sammler-Michael said afterwards that he wanted to attend the service and rally both out of religious duty and personal responsibility, since he has several friends in Dar al Hijrah, and his congregation frequently organizes events with the mosque.
“It’s a religious duty to stand up for decency, to stand up for Muslims and any religious group’s right to gather and pray and be in this country,” the reverend said. “We, by serving the cause of their freedom, embolden our own.”
The state and county elected officials in attendance acknowledged the concern that those at the mosque felt at the prospect of a Trump administration, but they mostly emphasized the need for hope and solidarity, promising to push back against any anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant policies.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told the Dar al Hijrah congregation that he will continue to stand with them as the state’s foremost legal authority.
“As your attorney general, I will continue to work as hard as I can to defend and protect your civil liberties and the civil liberties of all Virginians,” Herring said.
Since becoming attorney general in 2014, Herring has regularly addressed civil rights issues. In his first year in the position, he challenged Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages, which was later removed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and let undocumented students in the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program qualify for in-state college tuition.
The Fairfax County Muslim community received support from lawmakers at the local, state and federal level.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Dranesville district representative John Foust called for faith in the general decency of the American public, while Mason district representative Penny Gross expressed disappointment in the presidential election result before saying that Trump’s opponents should “approach the challenge peacefully but always aware and ready to act.”
While he was engaged in Veterans Day events and, as a result, couldn’t attend the rally in person, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va. 8) said through his legislative correspondent, Adnan Mohamed, that he would reintroduce the Freedom of Religion Act and a resolution condemning anti-Muslim hate crimes and speech when the 115th Congress convenes in 2017.
A delegation including Beyer first introduced the Freedom of Religion Act to the House of Representatives on May 11. The bill would prohibit the use of religion as a criterion for determining whether immigrants, refugees and international visitors can enter the country.
Beyer was among several House representatives to sponsor legislation in December 2015 that would officially condemn “violence, bigotry and hateful rhetoric” against Muslim Americans, according to a press release on the Congressman’s site announcing the legislation.
“Although this presidential election did not go as well as we hoped, do not be dissuaded from continuing your efforts,” Mohamed said, reading a statement from Beyer. “If anything, this is a call to redouble our efforts. I will not abandon your community, and I will continue to fight on behalf of all people in this wonderful, diverse region.”
Many of the speakers at the Dar al Hijrah rally cited a personal history of involvement with Muslim communities to explain why they felt it was important to openly voice their support for Muslims after this year’s election.
For example, Delegate Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon) says that she regularly works with the Muslim community in Fairfax and Loudoun counties through the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center, a community organization in Sterling, which is part of the district she represents in the Virginia General Assembly.
In her speech to the Dar al Hijrah congregation, the Arkansas native mentioned how her upbringing in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement influenced her decision to pursue a career in public service.
“My hope is that our president-elect will recuse himself of all the divisive statements that he’s made,” Boysko said. “[If he doesn’t], we’re not going anywhere, and we will work for peaceful, positive change to protect the rights of everybody in our community.”
However, the Muslim community’s concerns about Trump’s ascendency to the White House go beyond what it could mean for future policy decisions.
The FBI reported Monday that a surge in attacks against Muslims contributed to a 6 percent overall increase in hate crimes in 2015. There were a total of 5,818 hate crimes in 2015, including 257 against Muslims, a 67 percent increase from 2014 and the most since 2001, according to The New York Times.
The civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center said Tuesday that it had collected 437 reports of intimidation and harassment between Nov. 9 and Nov. 14.
Fairfax County School Board chair and Mason District representative Sandy Evans told parents at Dar al Hijrah to report any incidents that they see at school to their child’s teacher and principal, adding that they should then also reach out to her directly.
“We will not allow any bullying. We will not allow harassment of your children. Your children will be safe at school,” Evans assured.
Though the support from elected officials and people outside the community was welcome, many of the people gathered at Dar al Hijrah remained apprehensive even after the rally concluded.
A Fairfax County man who identified himself as Asif said that, while it was “good to hear nice things,” he was skeptical that such sentiments of solidarity will ultimately help.
Asif is a Canadian citizen who recently moved to Fairfax County with his wife, who is American.
“How to the south of the [Canadian] border, our neighbor elects a xenophobic, misogynist and regressive president is beyond me,” Asif said, noting that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls himself a feminist and has a cabinet composed of equal numbers of men and women. “There has been a hate that’s been propagated [and] promoted throughout the time, and now we’re bearing the consequences of it.”