Owais Lari wants his fellow New Jersey residents to understand how much American Muslims contribute to this country.
“We feel proud to be Americans,” says Lari, president of the Pakistan-American Society of South Jersey and a trustee of the Islamic Center of South Jersey. “We contribute to this country as doctors, lawyers, scientists—and we fight for this country in the armed services.”
Lari and his wife, Mona, who live in Cherry Hill, came here from Pakistan—he in 1979, she in 1989—seeking for a safe place to raise a family. These days, they don’t feel so safe. “Muslims are being victimized on both sides,” Lari says. “ISIS has targeted many more Muslims than anyone else. They want Muslims to be stigmatized and more hate to come out of it.”
And more hate is exactly what he sees coming from GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“Trump is only helping them,” Lari contends. “He is creating hate, and people are getting very comfortable hearing hate comments.”
Trump has made a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” a centerpiece in his drive for the Republican nomination. He went out of his way to refer to New Jersey’s Muslim community in one of the most outrageous statements of his campaign.
“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” Trump said at a November 21 rally in Birmingham, Alabama. “I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”
Despite that false claim, Trump’s hateful words have struck a chord with many Americans. Some polls indicate that as many as 65 percent of those voting in Republican primaries support Trump’s proposal to ban foreign-born Muslims from entering the U. S.
Such talk has caused a lot of pain in New Jersey, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in the nation.
Jim Sues, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), describes Trump’s call to ban Muslims as “ignorant, not Constitutional, un-American and not logistically feasible.” Further, Sues says, “It creates tension and fear and apprehension…When a person of that stature who is running for President green lights that kind of thinking we end up in the type of toxic atmosphere we are in right now.”
While the number of incidents against Muslims in New Jersey has not increased in recent months, according to data from CAIR, there have been moments of concern. In January, protesters in Bayonne denounced plans for a mosque in that city. In March, an Islamic group sued Bernards Township for rejecting its plans for a mosque. The same month, three Muslim students, all wearing hijabs, were verbally attacked while riding the Newark Light Rail.
Nationwide, incidents against Muslims have increased, with more than 70 incidents targeting mosques and religious institutions in 2015. Twenty-nine of these incidents occurred since the November 13 terror attack in Paris.
What can be done? Mona and Owais Lari believe the Muslim community must do more to educate mainstream America about their religion. “We need to tell others what Islam is about and why it is called the religion of peace,” says Owais. “I am concerned that more Muslims are going to be isolated.” He pauses, then adds, “Trump makes us feel like we are not welcome and that hurts. This is our home.”Click here to leave a comment