Three members of Congress drove to a mosque in Northern Virginia on Friday afternoon, and sat attentively in the back while members of the congregation said their weekly prayers.
The lawmakers visited the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va., roughly 10 miles from the U.S. Capitol, to show support for the American Muslim community, which has faced threats and heated rhetoric, particularly since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks. Rep. Don Beyer Jr., D-Va., organized the visit to the mosque, which is in his district, and was joined by two fellow Democrats, Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia.
“So you say, what can the three of us do, three members of Congress?" Norton asked the crowd after the prayers. "This much we can do. We can come today to say that we stand in total solidarity with you and we represent millions more."
The mosque visit was announced a day before the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. on Dec. 2. The New York Times reported on Dec. 4 that one suspect had pledged allegiance to ISIS, and law enforcement is investigating the attack as an act of terrorism.
"The fact [is] that California is only going to up the Islamaphobia, is going to up the sense of terror that some people have," Beyer told reporters. "So it was really more important for us to come remind Americans that … this huge American Muslim community is almost completely a community of tolerance, of good will.”
Two weeks ago, on Nov. 19, a Virginia man attempted to enter the fence surrounding the Virginia mosque and threw smoke bombs and a Molotov cocktail. One of the mosque's leaders said anger directed at Muslims is nothing new.
"We have the unfortunate experience that we have already dealt with the aftermath of 9/11," Imam Johari Abdul-Malik said. He later added, "What we have learned from that lesson is a lesson of resilience: that our people know now how to gather together rather than be torn apart."
Asked for his message to the lawmakers, Abdul-Malik said he was grateful for their presence. But during the Friday prayers, Imam Sh. Shaker Elsayed had a more direct request.
"Please communicate whatever you learn of Islam and Muslims, both to your staff and to your fellow members of Congress,” Elsayed asked. "We need to curb the high-heated rhetoric and bring rationale and reason to our communities and to our societies."
Still, Elsayed focused the majority of his address on his congregation, even urging parents to keep watch over their children's online activities and protect them "from a deviant understanding of Islam."
"Be peacemakers, give peace, accept peace," Elsayed said. “As Muslims who live in the United States, we are quite lucky that the nation in which we live offers us values that are very consistent with our faith. You may disagree with some policies, domestic or foreign polices, but let your expression of disagreement be one of faith."
Niaz Khan, 42, a taxi driver who was born in Pakistan but now lives in Falls Church, Va., said he was encouraged by the visit from lawmakers.
“It’s a good feeling," Khan said. "They give us a sense of security that we’re all equal, we’re all like brothers and sisters no matter what religion we follow."
On Dec. 1, Beyer and Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., along with Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of two Muslim members of Congress, urged their Democratic colleagues in a letter to the caucus to visit mosques and show solidarity with the Muslim community.
Beyer explained that the letter was not sent to Republicans because it was a caucus effort and none of the Republicans he spoke with wanted to sign onto the letter.
“Nobody that I talked to wanted to do it, but that’s OK," Beyer said. "For me, I don’t want it to be partisan. This is about bringing people together.”
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