When Mohammed Patel found that the front of the Islamic Center of Hawthorne was graffitied with a spray-painted tag that read “Jesus is the way,” he did not feel angry, sad, or even disappointed.
Instead, Patel, if given the chance, wanted to, “communicate with [the vandal] and clarify and educate him about Islam.”
As office administrator of the Islamic Center of Hawthorne (ICH), Patel is often the cogs behind the programs and events that occur at the mosque. When the vandalism occurred on Sunday, December 11th of 2015, he recalled at least “seven news vans” stationed outside the Islamic center.
In black spray paint, “Jesus is the way” spanned more than 15 feet, plastered on the front wall of ICH.
“[Muslims] believe Jesus is the Way,” said Patel. “There’s no doubt about it, except we believe that Jesus is a prophet of Almighty Allah.”
A popular misperception regarding Islam is that Muslims do not believe in Jesus, when in actuality, they believe in a multitude of prophets and messengers including Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. They also believe that Allah, Arabic for God, sent those individuals to spread the word of Islam during different time periods.
Hence, Patel “would have liked to talk to [the vandal] about what Muslims believe in, to educate him” because “education is a bridge between communities with different faiths.”
Despite the Hawthorne Police Department branding the vandalism as a hate crime and media outlets reporting on the incident as a hate crime, Patel said, “It was not a hate crime against the Muslims and [the vandal] tried to give us a message.” Although the ICH community regarded the vandalism as a minor incident and repainted the front of the mosque within hours, the story ended up getting national coverage.
This act of explicit intolerance occurred the day after ICH and local St. Joseph’s Catholic Church held their annual Solidarity Peace Walk. That Saturday, Muslim and Christian members of the Hawthorne community walked about a half mile to St. Joseph’s Church from ICH and back.
“As a community, we strive to be at peace and stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with other faiths,” said Patel.
This is one of numerous stories of unfortunate friction Muslim Americans are exposed to in their communities. Although an issue the Muslim community finds itself constantly mired in, an FBI report identifies a recent spike in discriminatory behavior towards Muslims.
In their recently released 2016 Hate Crime Statistics report, the FBI has detailed that of over 1500 hate crimes that occurred in the United states, almost a quarter were Anti-Muslim. About a 26 percent jump from 2015 and a 96 percent jump from 2014, the cause for such drastic increase in Anti-Muslim sentiment is an eyebrow-furrowing concern.
Moreover, adding to the tension is the President of the United States, Donald Trump. Since the beginning of his campaign for presidential office back in June 2015, Trump has fractured his relationships with countless ethnic and religious groups, one of them being Muslims. Along with remarks like “Islam hates us,” and instating a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries back in January of this year, the president does not have a clean record with the Muslim community.
Muslim religious leader, Sheikh Hamdy Sadek, of ICH recalled how he was “happy it is not a one-man show” in America.
Trump’s travel ban was instated as Executive Order 13769 earlier this year on Jan. 27. In swift defiance, judges and government officials worked to reverse the president’s ban on the entrance of foreigners from seven different Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
No more than a week following the instatement of the travel ban, Judge James Robart, on Feb. 3, put a halt on the executive order, renewing passage for foreigners.
“There are checks and balances and we [Muslims] have gotten a lot of support from the people and [federal] judges,” said Sadek.
As federal legal processes furthered, Trump replaced EO 13769 with the new EO 13780. Many state and local courts, however, cited religious discrimination and stood up to Trump’s newly “watered down, politically correct version” of the travel ban. He instead calls the new order “extreme vetting.”
Trump’s travel ban caused a heavy emotional outpour in countless communities. The Iranian government infamously gave tit for tat and barred American wrestlers from obtaining visas to travel to Iran, where they were looking to compete at February’s international tournament in Kermanshah. Another instance of controversy was when a 4-month-old baby was denied travel to America despite her reason: heart surgery. She was later given an emergency waiver and allowed passage early February.
As 2017 comes to a close, Muslims still face umtpteen issues within their communities. However, something Patel and Sadek both emphasized was the media’s impact on these delicate situations.
Both recounted their feelings regarding the media’s “skewed” attention on the negatives, ignoring the positives in the process.
Patel recalled many constructive occurrences following the graffiti incident, like an influx of donations for the wall repainting costs and increased community-wide support from other religious entities in Hawthorne.
“The media has to play an important role to also convey a positive message,” said Patel. “When something negative happens, everyone jumps on it. When there was graffiti, there were seven or eight news channels here and it was broadcasted all over the U.S.”
Patel compared Sunday’s vandalism incident to Saturday’s Solidarity Peace Walk, in which, the first received attention from more than seven news outlets. The latter, however, only attracted one, that being the local Hawthorne community channel. Despite also regularly receiving “hate calls, hate faxes, and hate emails” Patel noted how he wants the media to be more focused on the positives in Hawthorne.
“You have to cover both sides of a community,” said Patel.
Patel also enumerated the many programs ICH has pioneered in the Hawthorne community, including annual health drives, interfaith events, Friday social programs, community charity initiatives, funeral services, and marriage services.
“The positives have to be covered so that people know there are good people who want to live in peace and harmony within the interfaith community,” said Patel.
To people who have mixed feelings regarding Islam or Muslims, Patel advises them to come down to a mosque “with an open mind so they will be able to see Islam.”
Sadek similarly said, “If you want to learn, you should go to the reliable source.”
Do not hesitate to pay the Islamic Center of Hawthorne, or even your local mosque, a visit; whether you are curious or would like to gain some knowledge, the mosque is a credible place to gain an understanding of the fastest growing religion in the world.