Muslims in Natchitoches talk about acceptance and community

Many worshippers at the Islamic Center of Natchitoches feel safe despite a rise in concern about the safety of people who practice the Islamic faith.

“I’ve been here all my life, and I haven’t witnessed any type of discrimination,” Rasul Abdullah, an attendee of the Islamic Center, said.

Another Natchitoches resident who practices Islam, Scholars’ College professor Dr. Rondo Keele, said that “Americans are generally pretty fair-minded.”

“Many people in Louisiana have gone to Muslim countries while serving in the military or working in the oil field, and they’re understanding of the culture,” he said.

Keele shares his Islamic faith with his wife, Sadeem El Nahhas, and the two attend services at the Islamic Center. Nahhas isn’t certain she could “objectively say whether we’re [Muslims in the U.S.] are safe or threatened.”

On Feb. 10, the mayor and three city council members visited the mosque for the Friday prayer service and stayed for a meal with the worshippers.

“We’re all really grateful to them for having done that,” Keele said.

“Islam is more about community than individualism,” one of the mosque’s congregation members, Akbar Asmar Abdur Rahim, said. “We’re encouraged by God to not let our differences separate us.”

Keele shares this sentiment and said that the violence and harassment that Jews are currently facing is even more troubling than the discrimination that Muslims are facing.

“It’s easy to understand why Americans are afraid of Muslims after 9/11 and the rise of groups like Daesh, but Americans have never really had this sort of prejudice against Jews,” Keele said. “This is the best example of the fact that the source of this is political. The situation is worsening all around; there is a major white supremacist movement in this country. Muslims are targeted by policies, but we all should be worried about the rhetoric that targets Jews as well.”

Some people oppose the presence of a Muslim community in Natchitoches. Keele mentioned a time when someone left a “nasty” letter in the Islamic Center’s mailbox. However, Keele said that there also people who are supportive. For instance, someone also left a poster that rejected Islamophobia.

“People get comfortable with commonalities and are afraid of the unknown,” Abdullah said. “Once we really get to know each other, we won’t have room for racism, segregation and discrimination. We all share the same human soul.”

Toria Smith

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