Bay Area Mosque Draws Support After Receiving Hate Letter

Similar letters were sent to numerous mosques around the U.S. (Courtesy of the Council on American Islamic Relations)

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is asking the FBI to investigate a series of threatening letters sent to mosques in California and around the country.

The handwritten letters are addressed to "the children of Satan." They call President-elect Donald Trump the “new sheriff in town” and add, "He's going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the jews [sic].”

“We were initially in shock,” said Faisal Yazadi, board president for the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose, which received one of these letters.

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Then came patience and understanding, he said, as the mosque leaders took a day to talk about how to respond. Eventually, Yazadi said they would alert the San Jose Police Department about the letter.

“I don’t think we are worried,” he said. “It’s business as usual.”

Since receiving the letter last week, the Evergreen Islamic Center has seen an overwhelming amount of support: People have sent flowers, cards and emails from as far away as Australia, Yazadi said.

Several recent hate crimes and harassment incidents have received heightened attention by the media, but many in the Muslim community remain optimistic about the future and are keeping an open dialogue with their communities.

CAIR has already held a few meetings since the election at mosques and other Bay Area locations to relay information to Muslim communities about how to care for their health and safety and to discuss civil rights and ways to report harassment, said Zahra Billoo, director of CAIR’s Bay Area chapter.

But for the most part, the organization is standing by to see what a Trump presidency might mean to Muslims living in the United States, she said.

“The hard part is the wait-and-see part,” Billoo said. “A number of things could happen and nobody really knows concretely what they will be.”

One idea mentioned during Trump’s campaign was to require people entering the country from certain nations to register in a database to protect the country from terrorist threats. Civil rights groups argue a registry that would target specific countries or religions would be discriminatory.

Abdul Rahman, one of the leaders at the Islamic Center of the East Bay in Antioch, said that while he doesn't think a registry is a good idea, if one existed, he would also be OK with it.

Rahman moved his family to Antioch in the late 1990s and helped found the Islamic Center. After Sept. 11, the mosque got hostile voicemails, he says, and rocks were thrown and pellets were shot at the building. Rahman says he trimmed his beard, and his wife and daughter stopped wearing their hijabs. Then in 2007, the mosque was set on fire. Still, Rahman says, he doesn’t believe a Trump presidency will unleash a new wave of animosity.

Abdul Rahman says the Islamic Center of East Bay in Antioch became more inclusive and open to the community after someone set fire to the mosque in 2007.
Abdul Rahman says the Islamic Center of the East Bay in Antioch became more inclusive and open to the community after someone set fire to the mosque in 2007. (Devin Katayama/KQED)

“I don’t think it’s going to happen on a massive scale,” he said. “I think there will be exceptions.”

But more of these exceptions are popping up. The FBI’s latest data show a surge in hate crimes in 2015. And both CAIR and the Southern Poverty Law Center saw a spike in hate crimes following the election.

Rahman says the Islamic Center of the East Bay responded to earlier incidents by becoming more open and inclusive. After the arson attack in 2007, there was a march through downtown Antioch to support the mosque, and it was largely supported by other faith-based groups, he said. Then Rahman participated in a series of regional events to dispel Islamophobia.

“That’s the only way of having any hope, of changing minds, because the other way" -- becoming more closed and exclusive -- "isn’t going to work,” he said.

Discrimination against the Muslim community isn’t new, Rahman said, and that’s a sentiment echoed by other Muslim leaders in the Bay Area. But they also say there's an unseen side to the story.

Abubakr Elgarguri, imam of the Brentwood Muslim Community Center, said in response to the letters sent to California mosques, “For every one of those letters there’s 100 letters in support.”

That’s something that's underreported in the media, he said.

“There are people who are scared. But the general overwhelming feeling is not fear,” Elgarguri said.

Open dialogue is the best way forward, he said.