SHAFAQNA – A crowd of about 150 Muslims and supporters withstood the cold in Dearborn on Saturday to celebrate their religion and their American citizenship — while denouncing terrorism and hatred directed at their community.
“Very simply, we will not bow to hate,” Dr. Ali Dabaja, a local physician and one of the organizers of a group called #DearbornStrong, said to the crowd. “We will not be defined by fear and we will not be subject to savage speech that separates the heart of our community and the community of Americans, that causes us to be suspicious of one another and our neighbors. Hate and fear only cause our collective resolve to be weak. And today we come together as an Islamic faith with our partners across ethnic and racial lines.”
The demonstration, promoted on social media in recent days, drew a mixed crowd of older and younger people, some with children at their sides. The event was held at 2 p.m. outside the Islamic Center of America on Ford Road. Private security guards and Dearborn police officers also were in attendance.
Standing before a large banner emblazoned with “Rise Against Hate & Terror,” Dabaja noted in his speech that some local Muslims were hesitant to attend the event, fearful there might be a backlash because of the recent mass shooting by a Muslim couple in San Bernardino, Calif., and because of rhetoric in the presidential campaign about banning Muslims from the U.S.
“How have we allowed the discourse in this country to become so corrosive?” Dabaja asked the crowd.
Later, he explained the purpose of the gathering. “Part of it was to kind of rally people and make them proud of who they are. That they are not terrorists. That they are worth something. And I feel like this collective Islamophobia that’s happening, very strong here in this country, does affect us, and does affect our psyche. I want people to understand that it matters, and they matter. And they have to rise up and start speaking up and educating others.”
Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly Jr. also spoke from the podium, saying he has lived with Muslims in the community his whole life, with nothing but positive experiences.
Afterward, he explained why he attended the rally.
“We have a great community here and we more than probably most other places in the United States have a longer history of living very peacefully and very successfully with Muslims. And so it’s important that we’re countering some of the misinformation that’s out there,” O’Reilly said. “People are fearful here, and I think Muslims all over America are justified in being fearful. … Our citizens shouldn’t be afraid of our own government or what might be done by our government. That’s not what democracy is supposed to be about.”
Fatina Abdrabboh, an attorney and director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the crowd they have much for which to be proud.
“Muslim Americans are doing incredibly well, in terms of education level and successes, and contributions to the country,” Abdrabboh said. “And southeast Michigan knows that exceptionally well, and we’re hoping that that message gets conveyed, and that we’re able to continue to do our part in this country.”