Update: Read our follow up story on what happened at the rallies last weekend.
The congregation at the Islamic Center of Kitsap County is barely 30 people. Yet this small Muslim community is bracing for an anti-Islam protest this weekend.
“The Port Orchard Global Rally for Humanity Rally” is a demonstration called to reject “Sharia Law” in Kitsap County.
The rally is part of an international network of protests all set to occur this weekend. Mobilizing through social media, “patriot groups” like the Oathkeepers, The Three Percenters’ Club and the United Patriots Front are organizing protests at mosques across America, Australia and the UK.
“In the 20 years I’ve lived here, our peaceful community never experienced hatred of any form,” said Hamid Haji, a board member of the Islamic Center where the rally is planned.
Related anti-Islam protests are planned for mosques in 20 states, including in Phoenix, Arizona. The Phoenix rally is at the same mosque where similar protests took place in May, when armed groups of bikers, veterans, Three Percenter’s and Tea Party supporters, some bearing profane signs and t-shirts, staged two large protests.
Now the organizer of that May rally, Jon Ritzheimer is calling for a the new string of protests all across the U.S. that he calls “the Global Rally For Humanity. Ritzheimer’s video calls on individuals to take up arms and protest at mosques across America (before veering off into some colorful language chiding his critics).
The protests are also apparently timed in opposition to the “Justice or Else” rally in Washington D.C. by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, marking the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March back in 1995.
Given the state-wide and nation-wide call to action from anti-Islam groups, Mosques and other Islamic organizations are preparing for protesters to show up at their front doors Saturday, regardless of whether they were singled out by the Global Rally for Humanity organizers.
Arsalan Bukhari, Executive Director of the Washington chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said his organization emailed all the mosques in the state to prepare them in case they are met by protestors.
Bukhari said that although the rallies are planned for Saturday, mosques should also expect protestors at Friday prayer, especially since the shared video calls for action on Friday as well.
The Islamic Center of Kitsap County’s board is preparing for the rally, although there are currently just eight people RSVP’d as attending the rally on the Facebook event page. Bremerton police did not respond to my inquiries about how they were preparing.
The Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) in Redmond was also briefly mentioned on the rally’s Facebook page, and say they’ve been working with the Redmond Police Department to ensure security of worshippers and the schools inside the mosque. According to Redmond Police’s Public Information Officer Becky Range, the police department is monitoring the situation closely, although they do not expect protesters.
Nihal Fahim, who runs Precious Hearts, an early education program at MAPS, said she plans to cancel classes today “for the safety of the children, and for the peace of mind of the parents.”
Arzoo Shaikh, a 5th and 6th grade teacher at Medina Academy, the MAPS Islamic school, said that to prepare, teachers have been talking to students about the rallies, and the school has been practicing lockdown and other safety procedures.
Shaikh said the children are receiving the brunt of the targeted hate, even though they are taught the same American values of being good citizens and contributing to society in a positive way.
According to Abduselam Ibrahim, MAPS’ Operations Manager, aside from safety measures, the mosque plans to put out refreshments for protestors, which he says is the sort of kind gesture that Muslims are taught to show even when faced with aggression.
“People are misinformed about Islam,” said Haji, “and act on emotion without learning about Muslims and our beliefs.”
“Let’s talk about solutions and let’s open up dialogue,” said Shaikh. “It’s sad to hear of large-scale, hateful events like this. It just doesn’t make sense.”
The rally organizers did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
This post has been updated since initial publication to correct name spellings.