The largest mosque in the Northwest put up an unexpected sign on Friday: Not a promotional banner, but a response to what the community calls an act of hate.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Mahmood Khadeer arrived at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound to see their granite sign cracked and damaged. It had been vandalized overnight.
Khadeer, president of the Muslim association, said his initial reaction was shock and disappointment.
But then support from the community poured in, and Khadeer’s reaction turned to gratitude and hope.
“It’s really energizing because we all stand together,” Khadeer said.
On Friday, that support was laid in cement as political and faith leaders from across the region marked the base of the new sign with their hand prints.
"We have refused destruction and favored construction with our own hand prints here," Kadeer said during the ceremony. "We have overlooked differences and emphasized the commonalities. We have rejected hate and replaced it with love.”
But he’s conscious that the unity displayed Friday must continue for the Muslim community to feel safe.
“How do we ensure that as this wet cement dries, our passion for unity, security and prosperity do not dry out as well? How do we move from this one time display of unity to an ongoing, action-oriented, result producing act of unity?”
The answer, Khadeer said is to take this opportunity to launch a program that will focus on just that.
The Muslim association is launching an initiative to help foster partnerships between communities and ensure that all people in the Northwest feel they have a place.
Aneelah Afzali will run that program. It's called AMEN, American Muslim Empowerment Network.
Afzali said AMEN will allow her community to take a leadership role in bringing different communities together.
She said working together enables communities to be strategic and effective in their response to the challenges they’ll face in the coming years.
The program and new sign are a response to the fear and hate some people feel, she said.
"Anybody who engages in acts of fear or hatred or violence, we're going to respond to it with love, with solidarity, with unity and use it as an opportunity to bring our community together and make these clear statements."
If people knew more about her community, Afzali said, they might not be so afraid. She hopes the person who vandalized the Muslim association sign might benefit from meeting her and others who attend her mosque.
“We invite the perpetrator who engaged in this act of hate to come and meet with us and get to know Islam, get to know American Muslims.”
Personal relationships across faiths and political divides is the way forward, she said.