Muslims say outreach, service can combat stereotypes after Trump’s retweets

Muslims say outreach, service can combat stereotypes after Trump’s retweets

(Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Even though actions such as President Donald Trump’s retweets Wednesday might fuel anti-Islam flames in other states, Utahns are more understanding of other faiths, one local Muslim leader said.

Imam Mohammed S. Mehtar, of the Khadeeja Mosque in West Valley City, said Islam has more in common with other faiths than most people realize.

“We believe in prayer, we believe in charity, we believe in pilgrimage, we believe in helping the poor and the needy,” Imam Mehtar said. “We have a lot more in common than many people give us credit for.”

Trump on Wednesday retweeted a trio of videos that purportedly showed Muslims committing violent acts. One shows a man kicking another person, who is using crutches. Another shows a man dropping and smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary.

The grainy third clip shows a very graphic confrontation between a group of people and a man who is thrown off the roof of a building.

None of the short clips have been independently verified. They originally came from the verified Twitter account of Jayda Fransen, the head of the far-right group Britain First.

Britain First opposes what it calls the "Islamization" of Britain, according to the Associated Press. Fransen previously was convicted of a hate crime in 2016 after she abused a Muslim woman who was wearing a hijab.

Many groups were quick to condemn the president’s decision to give the videos more exposure.

The executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad, said in a statement that Trump is "clearly telling members of his base that they should hate Islam and Muslims."

Imam Mehtar said most Utahns don’t stand for statements that malign an ethnic or religious group.

“We are more fortunate in America that when people make negative statements regarding any group of people, Utahns don’t directly buy into it,” Imam Mehtar said.

That sentiment is common among most Utahns, whether they are Republican or Democrat, he said.

Zeynep Kariparduc, a Muslim woman who is involved with several community service groups in the Salt Lake area, said associating the violent videos with the Muslim faith is deeply hurtful.

“Such videos cannot be associated with any faith even if they claim themselves a part of any religion,” she said in an email. “The world is going through very difficult times and we need to walk and create solutions all together in harmony.”

“As Muslims, we should not be reactionary but be positively active in our communities in reaching out to our neighbors.” — Zeynep Kariparduc

Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defended the president’s retweets during a Wednesday morning press briefing, the AP reported. She said Trump’s retweets demonstrated his devotion to securing the country’s borders, and she downplayed the fact that the videos are not verified.

"Whether it's a real video, the threat is real and that is what the president is talking about," Sanders said.

Imam Mehtar said inflammatory actions from Trump are dangerous because others may view it as a “stamp of approval” that validates their own actions of negativity towards others. But that isn’t often a line of thought for most Utahns, he said.

Both Kariparduc and Imam Mehtar said community outreach helps to educate others about Islam and dispel stereotypes about Muslims.

“As Muslims, we should not be reactionary but be positively active in our communities in reaching out to our neighbors,” Kariparduc said.

Islam teaches “peace, love, harmony and respect for everyone,” she added.

She tries to serve the Salt Lake community through groups such as Talkinaction, which works with people of all faiths to help those in need.

Across the world, Muslims are devoted to community service, Kariparduc said. They build schools, open hospitals and start charity groups, she said.

“There are ordinary Muslims all around the world who do great works,” she said.

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