CEDAR RAPIDS – Hundreds of people from different faith groups and ethnicities circled America’s oldest mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday, March 26, forming a human shield to show support to American Muslims against threats and hate mails sent to mosques across the US.
“We want you to know that your support and encouragement to your fellow citizens, your Muslim neighbors, are the fuel that keeps us going,” said Imam Taha Tawil, the leader of the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa Public Radio reported on Monday, March 27.
“It is like when the rain comes on dry land and then causes it to grow again.”
The event was co-organized by Erin Bustin of Grinnell, who said she wanted to find a way to show her support for Muslims after mosques around the country were vandalized or sent hate mail in recent months.
It also followed President Donald Trump signing of two executive orders banning citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US, which put American Muslims in the middle of political debates.
Therefore, she reached out to the Rev. Wendy Abrahamson in Grinnell, who contacted Imam Tawil.
Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Meskwaki Native Americans, atheists and Christians spoke at the event to show support for Muslims and religious freedom.
After the speeches, the group sang “This Land is Your Land” and formed a symbolic human shield around the small, white building.
“Today, Iowans stand with, alongside and around our Muslim friends and neighbors to tell you that you are loved, you are welcome, and you are part of us,” Bustin said.
Tawil said he was thankful the group could share values of “pluralism, diversity, acceptance and tolerance” at the Mother Mosque, which was built in 1936 and is one of the longest-standing mosques in North America.
“We are not going back in the dark past where civil war and human rights violations has divided our communities,” Tawil said.
In his speech, Rev. Abrahamson shared scripture from the Bible, saying the verses showed how various religious traditions are all methods of serving the same God.
“In one beautiful section, Paul says, ‘It’s not like the hand can say to the foot: I don’t need you,’ ” Abrahamson quoted, The Gazette reported.
“By design, God has made multiple parts that all function differently, and if we were all the same, it simply would not work. I think this translates really well into the American project.”
Donnielle Wanatee, a Meskwaki, said she understands how Muslim communities might feel oppressed because it wasn’t until 1978 that a federal mandate granted Native Americans the right to practice their beliefs.
“It’s going to be OK,” Wanatee said.
“We have to unite as a people. I will defend anybody. This is my Iowa, and it doesn’t work without all of you in it.”
Sara Sayed, a Muslim from Cedar Rapids, said she was overwhelmed by the amount of support, seeing the event as an opportunity for all Iowans to stand against prejudice.
“It’s an (opportunity) for everybody else to say I’m not a part of this, just like when I see any violence (committed by a Muslim), I say … ‘I’m not a part of that,’ ” Sayed said. “It’s up to each one of us to keep up this momentum.”