JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (AFP) — Muslim Americans are pleading with Donald Trump to stop encouraging violence in demanding a “complete” halt to Muslim immigration after a New York shopkeeper was beaten in a possible hate crime.
The call by Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, is part of what activists have described as an unprecedented anti-Muslim backlash following the Paris attacks and the shooting in California by a couple believed to have turned extremist.
“He’s giving the right to people to hurt us,” said Ahmed Shedeed, who moved to the United States from Egypt in 1980 with a degree in agricultural engineering and today runs a travel agency.
Also director of The Islamic Center of Jersey City, he spoke to AFP at a mosque, accusing Trump of provoking hate and violence.
“I’m asking him, I’m begging him. It has to stop — all these accusations. Look at the Muslim community as part of the American mosaic and we are part of America. We are not going anywhere.”
Muslim Americans say they are afraid. They talk about women wearing the hijab being spat on, a Muslim taxi driver being shot in the back on Thanksgiving and a pig’s head found outside a Philadelphia mosque.
Just hours before the Republican candidate’s call for an end to Muslim immigration, community leaders from New Jersey met prosecutors asking them to take seriously alleged hate crimes against Muslims.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil liberties group in the country, says it has documented a wave of abuse, vandalism and acts of discrimination in the last month.
“It is reckless and simply un-American. Donald Trump sounds more like a leader of a lynch mob than a great nation like ours,” CAIR executive director Nihad Awad told a news conference in Washington, DC.
Although data is hard to pin down, the Muslim American community is drawn largely from immigrants, many of whom have prospered since leaving Asia and the Middle East in search of a better life.
A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2011 estimated there were 2.75 million Muslims in the United States, although members of the community put the number anywhere from six to 12 million.
After the California killings, President Barack Obama called on Americans not to discriminate against Muslims and on the Muslim community to do more to “confront, without excuse” extremist ideology.
Shedeed said the speech made him proud to be American after Trump insisted so bitterly, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that Arab Americans in Jersey City celebrated the 9/11 attacks.
“We were in agony, we were in fear. We were in tears,” he said.
“We were scared of people like him. If Mr. Trump was active at 9/11 and he was doing the same talk, I’m sure a lot of us would be hurt.”
Sarker Haque, the owner of a New York convenience store, was battered in the head by a man whom he said threatened to kill Muslims.
He said the man came in at Saturday lunchtime and glared intently at a stack of newspapers showing the face of the female shooter in California before saying: ‘hey buddy everything is free in this store?”
Haque said the white male in his 50s acted erratically before punching him in the head, saying “I want to kill Muslims.”
He beat him in the face and head, cut his lip, kicked him in the ribs and dislocated his left hand, requiring hospital treatment and leaving him in pain. A large bruise is still visible under Haque’s eye.
Haque says the attack has left him scared, for the first time. “I never felt insecure,” he said. “Now I have to look left and right.”
Police say the suspect was arrested for assault. Haque said he believed it was a hate crime.
Just outside the New Jersey town of Hackensack, mother of four Najiba Saleh says she also has lived in America for 30 years and also for the first time worries about safety.
“Now I have kids, I do, I get afraid,” she told AFP. Four days a week, she says, her children go to a friend’s house to study the Koran.
“When they leave the house they put the hijab on, you know they read the Koran they have respect,” she said.
“When they leave the house I get afraid, I’m, like, what if someone is driving by and they see them or they might target them?”