A Muslim community in Virginia feels the heat of extremists’ sins


Source: The New York Times


FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Women in head scarves slid off their shoes, stacked them in neat rows next to the mosque’s entrance and squeezed together shoulder to shoulder in the small prayer space to listen to the imam’s sermon.

It was a Friday Prayer like any other at the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg until the warning came from the imam. Less than a week after the Orlando, Fla., nightclub massacre by an American-born Muslim, and after Donald J. Trump’s renewed call to bar Muslims from entering the United States, Imam Hilal Shah told his congregation to stay vigilant for violence against their families and community.

“We’re fearful of a backlash,” Imam Shah called out through the speakers as he mentioned other attacks by Muslim extremists in Paris and in San Bernardino, Calif. “Anytime an event takes place such as what happened in France, such as what happened in San Bernardino, such as in Orlando, we as a Muslim community feel scared.”

The Islamic Center is no stranger to backlash. Home to one of the many growing American Muslim communities in Northern Virginia, the center has expanded beyond the capacity of its small building on Harrison Road. The center decided last year to move to a larger mosque, but three days after the Paris attacks in November, a group of Fredericksburg residents protested the construction plans at a public hearing.

The center has plenty of company. In nearby Culpeper County, the board of supervisors voted against a sewage permit application from a Muslim congregation to build a mosque on land that cannot support a traditional drain field, saying the application violated the county’s regulations. The rejection was only the second of its kind in 20 years; the construction of a new mosque is stalled until the permit issue has been resolved.

For the Fredericksburg Islamic Center, the opposition is particularly painful because the mosque has been holding prayers and community events in the city for three decades. Many of the mosque’s members are American citizens who own local businesses. They say that until now, they have worked and lived side by side with their neighbors without problems.

“That was the shocking thing,” said Samer Shalaby, the chairman of the mosque’s board of directors. “People don’t realize that they have a mosque right next door.” He said the group gathered for prayer once a week and hosts community events inside the prayer center occasionally, but otherwise, the mosque sits empty most of the time. “We go to pray and go home,” he said.

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