December 4, 2015; Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)

Given presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent proposal to ban all Muslims (traveling or incoming immigrants) from entering the United States, we should not be surprised at the surge in Islamophobic attacks against Muslims. What’s most disturbing is that Trump’s statements touch on genuine Islamophobia in the country. Unfortunately, Trump’s sentiments are not only being voiced in the national arena. They have seeped into the mundane and everyday lives of citizens in small-town America, like Fredericksburg, Virginia.

At a town meeting on November 19th, Samer Shalaby, a trustee of the local Fredericksburg mosque, presented a plan to build a new mosque. Like any other town meeting for any other proposal, this meeting was scheduled to allow the community to express their opinions on the plan. Some brought legitimate concerns to the meeting, including how increased traffic would impact the area.

Others also took the opportunity to criticize Islam, flaring deep-seated tensions that eventually leading to the cancellation of the meeting altogether.

“Nobody wants your evil cult in this town,” shouted one of the hecklers at Shalaby. In a video available on the website, some in the room clapped supporting the man’s statements, while others expressed incredulity.

“And I’ll tell you what,” he continued, “I will do everything in my power to make sure that this does not happen. Because you are terrorists. Every one of you are terrorists. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care what you think.”

“Every Muslim is a terrorist, period. Shut your mouth.”

Reverend Don Rooney, a pastor at the local St. Mary Catholic Church, was dismayed by the comments that were made at the meeting.

“It’s really wrong, I think, to paint with such a broad brush,” said Rooney of the comments. “Their emotions were riding very high.”

Since the shooting last week in San Bernardino, the city’s Islamic Center announced it would postponing any further public meetings on the proposed mosque until after the holidays “out of an abundance of concern for the safety of the Muslim community and the many kind people of other faiths who have promised to support us.”

Apparently, there have been some attacks against Muslims in the Fredericksburg community. However, as Rooney’s comments indicate, there is a united front against the backlash, which may make all the difference for the Muslim members. Indeed, with Christmas right around the corner, a local church is determined to hold an interfaith service, combining Christian and Quranic scriptures as a symbol of support.

The situation in Fredericksburg is not unique. NPQ has reported on other instances of communities being reluctant to approve mosques, some of the opposition’s voices colored by anti-Muslim sentiment. There have also been lawsuits against towns like Bensalem, Pennsylvania, for prohibiting a mosque from being building and alleging violating the congregation’s constitutional rights.

However, what may be unique in Fredericksburg is the outspoken support in the community. Along with the individuals who are bent on alienating the town’s Muslim population, the city appears to have a corresponding community of support in its local leaders. Many, including President Barack Obama, have asked why all American Muslims aren’t condemning the recent terrorist attacks more ardently, but we must ask the same question for all local communities: Why aren’t you supporting and defending your Muslim neighbors, co-workers, and friends’ right to live freely in the country without fear of retribution?

Ask your Muslim friends living through these events. The impact of these sentiments in local communities is very real. These are not isolated incidents. As the Fredericksburg mosque noted in their statement, many Muslims nationwide are genuinely frightened that they will either be ostracized by their communities or physically harmed. Local communities have a responsibility to their Muslim neighbors to fight the Islamophobic backlash and ensure America remains a welcoming environment for all religious backgrounds.—Shafaq Hasan