Fort Worth

North Texas Muslim leader: ‘We must work together for peace.’

Members of the local Muslim community attend a forum Sunday that was titled Terrorism: Challenge for American Muslim.
Members of the local Muslim community attend a forum Sunday that was titled Terrorism: Challenge for American Muslim. rrodriguez@star-telegram.com

Terrorism by extremists affects everyone, including “Muslims and non-Muslims,” leaders from the North Texas Muslim community said Sunday at a town hall-style meeting at the downtown library.

Hosted by the Institute of Quranic Knowledge and Religious Acceptance, the forum sought to create partnerships that will make the country safer.

“We go to malls. We travel by planes,” said Dr. Basheer Ahmed, a local psychiatrist and longtime advocate of improving relations among Muslims and other faiths. “When a bomb goes off, it does not distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Representatives from the Arlington Police Department and FBI spoke about their own outreach efforts, and a pastor from University Christian Church shared stories of an interfaith group of Muslim, Christian and Jewish children.

This was the institute’s first meeting in Fort Worth, although the organization has hosted similar gatherings in Irving and Frisco. The advocacy group is dedicated to building peaceful and civic-minded communities through interfaith dialogues and social and political activity.

When a bomb goes off, it does not distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Dr. Basheer Ahmed

Islam, which has about 1.6 billion believers, is the fastest-growing major religion, according to Pew Research Center studies. In the United States, Muslims account for 3.3 million people, about 1 percent of the population.

On Sunday, those at the meeting described the Muslim community in North Texas as successful and thriving. When Imam Moujahed Bakhach arrived here in 1983, two mosques existed in North Texas. Today, that number has soared to 86.

Yet prejudice persists, and not just from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has been outspoken about banning Muslims from entering the United States. Bakhach recalled last year when armed protesters gathered outside the Islamic Center of Irving. The protest came after the Obama administration pledged to accept Syrian refugees into the United States, a move that some people saw as a way for Islamic terrorists to infiltrate the nation.

“Imagine if the opposite scenario had occurred,” Bakhach said. “What would the response have been?”

Outreach efforts are ongoing

Officials in some North Texas communities are working to strengthen relationships among law enforcement, Muslims and the greater community to promote understanding and prevent future incidents like what happened in Irving.

In Arlington, police are applying for a Homeland Security Department grant that would help officers build and improve relationships with Muslim communities. Deputy Police Chief Os Flores said the grant would complement the department’s push for stronger community policing.

Islam, which has about 1.6 billion believers, is the fastest-growing major religion, according to Pew Research.

“Together, not separately, can we address these quality-of-life issues,” Flores said.

The FBI, too, is working to bolster its outreach with Muslims, said Richard Esler III, who serves as the agency’s liaison to the Muslim community. To be successful, he said, the FBI needs more Muslims to work as special agents and translators and in other roles.

Dedicated to ending violence

The Rev. Russ Boyd of University Christian Church said he wants children there to learn about Islam not only from social studies classrooms and religion courses, but also from Muslims their own age.

“Curiosity with each other turns into bonding with each other,” Boyd said.

Even as recent news stories have caused Muslims to worry about their own safety, attendees said they are thankful for the reception they have received in Fort Worth, which they called accepting.

Earlier this month in Kansas, three men who called themselves “crusaders” are accused of plotting to attack a mosque and apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and worshipped.

North Texas Muslims are dedicated to helping end such violence, Ahmed said.

“There is no room in America for hate and intolerance,” he said. “We must work together for peace.”

Sarah Bahari: 817-390-7056, @sarahbfw

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