Following the mass shootings by Islamic extremists late last year in Paris and San Bernardino, California, the Birmingham Islamic Society received two emails in which the writers did not bother to hide their hostility.
“We do not want your Islam Religion which believes in murdering people because they will not worship your Devil god!” said one.
“Take your rag [expletive] head and get on your camels and go back to the desert,” said another.
But those two emails, along with hostile phone calls from two individuals, do not reflect the sentiments expressed in several dozen other communications, most of them emails, that the Islamic Society received during the same period.
The majority of those communications expressed feelings that were generally supportive, friendly, and encouraging. One writer even sent in a donation. Two letter writers brought by donuts and cookies, respectively.
More than a few of the supportive writers expressed anger or dismay, and those feelings were directed toward politicians and others who, in their view, have encouraged suspicion and hostility toward Muslims.
“You are welcome in my community and I am grateful for the diversity you bring us,” said one writer. “I totally disagree [with] and am embarrassed by those who have made hateful and ignorant comments against Muslims.”
“I am particularly incensed at Donald Trump’s ‘plan’ to bar Muslims from entering the US,” said another. “I have lived my entire life in the Deep South and was raised as a Protestant Christian, but I consider any threats or attacks on you just because you are Muslims to be also an attack on the values I hold dearest. So, I stand with you.”
One wrote, “I and many of my fellow Jews know what it is like to feel set apart by misunderstanding. Please know that many of us right here in Birmingham are doing our best to raise our children so they are filled with love and openness instead. Please do let me know if there is anything specific I can do to help.”
Another writer said, “Not every person in Alabama fears or hates you. So in this time, where others are seeking to bring darkness and cast shadows on your lives, I hope this message brings you much light and love. Be safe and know you are not alone!”
The above comments, and others to be featured in this article, were compiled and edited at the Islamic Society offices in Hoover. Asfaq Taufique, the society president, made them available to Weld. To protect the privacy of the authors who identified themselves, Taufique asked that their names not be published.
Taufique said he was gratified by the generally supportive sentiments expressed in the post-Paris/San Bernardino communications. Most of them seemed to be from the Birmingham area, and “I have been saying that since 9/11, that there has always been more support and compassion and love for our community and I think it’s got a lot to do with … Birmingham’s history during the civil rights [era],” Taufique said. “We are a whole lot more sensitive … to deal with diversity than probably some other communities are.”
But Taufique tempered his remarks by recalling that in 2014, Alabama voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment that, in his view, was less than friendly to Islam.
First approved by the Alabama Legislature, the amendment, now listed as No. 884 to the constitution, states that “a court, arbitrator, administrative agency, or other adjudicative, arbitrative, or enforcement authority shall not apply or enforce a foreign law if doing so would violate any state law or a right guaranteed by the Constitution of this state or of the United States.”
During an earlier legislative session, Amendment 884’s sponsor, Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, had proposed an amendment to stop courts from using Islamic Sharia law in their rulings. That proposal came to naught, and Allen did not mention Sharia law in the language of Amendment 884.
In January, Gov. Robert Bentley’s office announced he was suing the federal government over its failure “to provide the State of Alabama with sufficient information about the refugees who have settled or will be settled in the state.” In November, following the Paris shootings, Bentley said the state would not accept Syrian refugees. The January statement from his office mentioned “security and safety concerns” and “glaring flaws” in the federal refugee vetting system.
Bentley’s name was not mentioned in any of the supportive emails and letters received by the Islamic Society. Republican presidential nomination front runner Donald Trump’s name was mentioned, but only a handful of times.
“I am a Christian who just wanted to say that Donald Trump does not speak for me,” wrote one emailer, who identified himself as an attorney in Alabama.
“Several years ago, I had a Muslim client who could not afford representation,” the attorney added. “He owned a taxi; and the garage which was doing some work on his car would not return the vehicle. This young man had a wife and baby to support. I got involved with the situation … and, immediately the garage returned his automobile.
“My young Muslim friend had his family throw a celebratory dinner just for me,” the attorney said. “I have never experienced such kindness. Please know that if you ever need a Christian to stand in support of his Muslim brothers and sisters, I am here.”
According to the Pew Research Center, about 3.3 million Muslims — or about 1 percent of the overall American population — were living in the U.S. in 2015. The Muslim share of the population should double by 2050, the center says.
In 2010, according to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census, which based its estimates on the number of Muslims “associated in any way with the religious life” at mosques in the state, Alabama’s estimated Muslim population was slightly more than 10,000. Taufique said he believes the population is higher than that now.
A forum, Being Muslim in Alabama, is scheduled from 6–8 p.m. March 9 at the Library in The Forest, at 1221 Montgomery Highway in Vestavia Hills. Sponsored by Over the Mountain Democrats, the event will feature Asfaq Taufique of the Birmingham Islamic Society; Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center and Kaula Hadeed, executive director of the Alabama Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.