Harsh words and hateful chants were expected outside a small mosque in Bremerton, where an anti-Islam rally was planned on Saturday.
But instead of trading insults, mosque-goers and others who turned up ended up exchanging cookies.
About 40 individuals huddled under umbrellas outside the Islamic Center of Kitsap County in the drizzly October weather holding signs in support of First Amendment religious freedoms and calling for peace and unity, according to a Facebook post by CAIR-Washington.
Seeing passers-by give high-fives and thumbs-ups reassured Bainbridge resident Kent Chadwick for the safety and well-being of Bremerton’s Muslim community.
“It seemed that there was complete agreement that we stand to support our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Chadwick said.
Related protests by anti-Muslim groups that were planned at mosques around the state and around the country under the banner “The Global Rally for Humanity” similarly saw little to no turnout, other than those in support of the mosques.
Outside the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) in Redmond, Chris Welton, a Redmond resident, stood holding a sign for two hours that read “Welcome Muslim Neighbors!” on Friday, as worshippers attended Friday prayer.
Welton said she felt that she needed to do her part to open her arms to the local Muslims, and in return, she was welcomed generously by the community with food, hugs and a tour of the mosque.
“It felt like they threw a party in my honor, and that says a lot about how gracious the Muslim community is,” Welton said.
Pictures of Welton went viral on social media, even drawing attention from G. Willow Wilson, who writes the comic Ms. Marvel, featuring the first Muslim comic book heroine.
Welton said she has received hundreds of thank-you emails from Muslims around the world.
“It’s been so surreal,” said Welton. “I didn’t think I did anything more than try to express what most people already do feel, which is compassion.”
According to Ali Said, an aviation student and MAPS security guard, a group of men in a pickup truck drove by the mosque a couple times yelling “go back to where you came from,” and other incoherent slurs. Luckily, that was the only incident the mosque would see over the weekend.
In Spokane, over 100 people attended a potluck outside the Islamic Center of Spokane that was hosted by the Spokane Interfaith Council. Admir Rosic brought the idea of a community potluck to the council to counter the anti-Islam protests planned in the area with a meet-and-greet and to share the American value of caring for one’s neighbor.
“Death to Islam” graffiti, threats to remove a woman’s hijab and to rape and kill her and discrimination are some of the issues the Spokane Muslim community has been dealing with recently, said Rosic.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who was a speaker at the potluck, sees the anti-Muslim rhetoric as stemming from the vocal, far-right political groups in the area, and who he says have sent him death threats as well.
According to Kezovich, State Representative Matt Shea is an active member of the local Tea Party and “Patriot” groups, such as the Republican Liberty Caucus of Spokane County and the Spokane County Constitutional Republicans.
On the June 6th episode of his radio program, “Patriot Radio,” Rep. Shea said “We don’t understand, I think, how creeping Sharia Law is.” He’s called on listeners to be wary of Muslim groups that appear to be honest, because they are part of “the first period of occupying America” and are trying to “overturn the Constitution” by using deception.
“It amazes me that there are elected officials and regular citizens who claim to be Constitutionalists, but are trying strip others of their constitutional rights [of religion and speech],” said Knezovich.
Looking towards long-term relationship-building, Knezovich said he is part of an effort to form a county-wide human-rights task force.
“This potluck has actually started a community-wide conversation to stand up to hate,” he said, “and it’s comforting to know that people do care.”
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