Google screenshot of the Long Beach Islamic Center.
Following last week’s election of Donald Trump as president and amid a growing wave of concern felt by immigrants from all countries, Mayor Robert Garcia has organized a rally to show support for the Muslim-American community Friday afternoon.
The event will be held outside the Long Beach Islamic Center at 1:30PM, an hour before worshippers’ Asr prayer, one of the five daily prayers observed by Muslims. The mayor and other city and religious leaders will be in attendance and are asking supporters to bring signs and other supportive messages to show the center and its members that the city is behind them.
Garcia, who two years ago became the city’s first openly gay mayor and is an immigrant himself, said that it’s important for the city to make clear that not only Muslim-Americans, but all marginalized populations of people living in Long Beach are welcome here.
“My personal experience as an immigrant and as a member of the LGBTQ community obviously gives me a perspective and I’ve certainly experienced hateful things in the past but right now it’s important for leaders and for people that support civil rights and humanity for everyone, that they’re vocal,” Garcia said. “This is not a time to sit on the sidelines and be quiet. It’s a time to stand up for what our country was based on and what our values are.”
Tarek Mohamed, the chairman of the Long Beach Islamic Center said the support for the Muslim community, especially coming from a segment of the government has been invaluable to its members, especially at a time when a shroud of mystery persists over the incoming presidential administration’s future treatment of the Muslim population.
“This actually made my day because it doesn’t give me that feeling that we’re being left alone facing the threats to our community in Long Beach,” Mohamed said upon hearing of the mayor’s plans. “I feel as an official, for Robert Garcia to call and organize such an event makes our community feel great being supported by other people and members of our community.”
The city council has already shown signs that it's ready to assume a stance that runs counter to the many policy ideas floated by the incoming Trump administration. On Tuesday it voted in favor of the city attorney drafting a request to the United States Department of Homeland Security to grant humanitarian parole to a Long Beach man deported to Mexico in February.
The vote came mere months before incoming president-elect Trump takes office, where he has vowed to make good on his promise of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. Garcia took time at the meeting to reaffirm Long Beach’s commitment to protecting immigrants of all backgrounds and legal statues.
Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who represents one of the most diverse districts in the city, said that Long Beach prides itself on its diversity, be it ethnic, socioeconomic or religious. She said insinuations propagatedf by the incoming administration set a dangerous precedent that infringe on the liberties of all Americans.
“Efforts at the Federal level to register Muslim immigrants in a national database are highly discriminatory and an affront to the many contributions that Muslims make in our society” Pearce said. “I stand in support of our Muslim neighbors and all of the diverse communities who make up the fabric of this city.. We want you to know that Long Beach welcomes you and supports you, now and into the future.”
Gregory Sanders, founder and senior pastor at The ROCK Christian Fellowship in Long Beach and member of the Long Beach Ministers Alliance, has been involved in numerous efforts to heal division locally through his service to the community. Sanders said he thought the administration’s move to host the event as a local, grassroots effort is meaningful, since policies are ultimately felt at the local level.
He said that when a victim receives the support of the community they live in, it can help negate preconceived notions they might hold, based on what they read in newspapers or see on television, making the community as a whole stronger.
“When a community has been marginalized, or disconnected or is suffering from any kind of trauma[…] whenever we rally to support that grief and that pain it tends to expedite the healing process,” Sanders said. “And the healthier a community is, regardless of who you are and where you are, usually the more productive that community becomes.”
Mohamed said last Tuesday’s election results, which left a man who’s pledged to ban Muslims from the country and create a registry for those inside the US that hail from countries where terrorist groups are active, left the community shaken. But for Mohamed, who has lived in the United States since moving from Egypt in 1993, the concerns started well before last week’s election.
Mohamed said his overall experience as a Muslim in Long Beach has been good, despite the anti-Muslim sentiments that materialized after the 9/11 attacks in New York. He said the years in the Obama administration had provided a kind of reprieve from backlash against Muslim-Americans, but sadly those kinds of attacks have increased in the last five months.
He said he’s personally been targeted by anti-Muslim attacks including swastikas being spray-painted on his business. His wife, who was born in the US, has been told to go back to her country. And his daughter, a Long Beach City College (LBCC) student, was confronted by fellow classmates on campus after last week’s election and asked “who’s going to defend you now that Obama is leaving?”
As for members of the center—he estimates to be around 2,000 when counting non-regular attendees—people have been talking about hard decisions they might have to make to ensure their safety, namely women choosing to continue to wear or abandon their hijab.
Mohamed said that a lot of the youth from the center have even approached him seeking advice on whether they should move to Canada or other countries to avoid being jailed by the incoming administration.
“I’m telling you, these are very unstable statements for young children, who are all American citizens, to hear,” Mohamed said.
According to the Pew Research Center, only one percent of Californians identify as Muslim. New Jersey has the highest concentration of Muslims in the country, at three percent. However, president-elect Trump’s campaign has coincided with a surge in anti-Islamic hate crimes over the past year.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released its annual hate crime report earlier this week and it revealed that of all groups, Muslims experienced 67 percent more hate crimes in 2015 than they did in the previous year. Of the over 7,100 victims of single-bias incidents recorded by the FBI, 19.7 percent were targeted because of religion.
The number climbed from 154 incidents in 2014, to 257 in 2015. That figure represented over 22 percent of the total reported faith-based crimes in the country last year, a disproportionate number when factoring in that Muslims (estimated 3.3 million) make up about one percent of the population.
That the local government is set to embrace his community while these crimes seem to be surging has Mohamed hopeful for the future. When he broke news of the rally to members of the center, he said he witnessed visible signs of joy, as they believed the mayor was truly doing the right thing in their time of need.
“I feel saved,” Mohamed said. “To see an official and part of the government having our back, telling us that you’re not alone and we’re going to do everything we can to support you, that actually makes our fear in our community more calm.
The Long Beach Islamic Center is located at 995 E. 27th Street Signal Hill, CA 90755.