After attacks and Trump’s comments, Muslim Americans say it’s a more hostile world for them

Some local Muslim women are going out without their headscarves, a religious indignity they’ll suffer because they feel threatened.

Some families are cautioning their children to be wary of what they say in public and of staying out after dark.

And an editor of a local Arabic-language newspaper says he wants a concealed weapon permit because he fears for his life.

In these and many other ways, Orange County’s Muslim community is responding to a new, more openly hostile post-San Bernardino world.

Though some local Muslims said they’ve been harassed and threatened since the Nov. 13 attack in Paris that killed 130, the threats have increased in the days since a Dec. 2 attack in which two militant Muslims, a husband and wife team, killed 14 people and wounded 21 others in San Bernardino.

On Monday, the pressure ratcheted up again, when presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Though critics from all points on the political spectrum on Tuesday spoke out against Trump’s statement, and an Obama administration spokesman said it disqualifies the businessman-entertainer from serving as president, many local Muslims noted Trump’s words are an applause line with some voters.

Meanwhile, mosques in the region have been the subject of direct and indirect threats since the San Bernardino shooting, said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Shura Council of Southern California, an umbrella organization that represents most mosques in the region.

After last week’s shootings, a mosque in Culver City received a direct threat – “We will come and kill you” – Syed said. There were posts on Facebook that offered less specific threats to harm people in other mosques. Syed reported the incidents to police.

“We are warning all our members to be cautious, but not paranoid,” he said.

“Specifically, we’re asking them to step up visible security, escort women who come to prayers early in the morning or late at night, and be more vigilant in mosques that have schools.”

Even people who aren’t Muslim but sometimes are mistaken for Muslims are being threatened.

Over the weekend, a Sikh house of worship in Buena Park, the Gurdwara Singh Sabha, and a member’s truck in the parking lot were vandalized with graffiti that derided ISIS, reported the Sikh Coalition.

For many, the threats lead to conflicts that can be as difficult to resolve as they are personal.

Ahmad Sarsak, owner of Al Anwar Islamic Fashion in Anaheim’s Little Arabia district, said his daughter, a student at UC Irvine, called him to say her roommate removed her hijab, worn by Muslim women out of modesty, and swapped it for a hat. Sarsak said his daughter wanted to know if she should do the same.

“I told her, ‘You know how I raised you. Do you have anything to do with this? No. Then you stay with your scarf. You did nothing wrong. God will protect you.’”

Syed of the Shura Council said he has taken calls from young women asking if they should remove their hijabs for fear of a backlash.

“I would respect any decision women make for safety concerns,” he said.

“But it breaks my heart that people born and raised in this country are unable to exercise their religious rights freely.”

Sarsak said he is not afraid for his daughter, but other parents are afraid for their kids.

Asem Abusir said he called a family meeting in his Irvine home after the shootings.

“From now on, or for a while, things will not be the same and you’ll have to keep yourself safe,” Abusir told his wife and five children.

The new rules: No more staying out late for the teenage boys; any outings require a buddy. Also, do not engage in any arguments or debates in public. Be more aware of your surroundings.

The next day, Abusir’s wife was accosted at an Irvine supermarket for wearing a headscarf. Abusir says the stranger yelled that “by wearing it, she was promoting terrorism.”

“We’re concerned not just for our safety, but for our future and the future of our children,” said Abusir, owner of Knafeh Cafe in Little Arabia.

Riad Saeid, editor of the Arab World Newspaper in Anaheim, said he’s concerned enough about his safety that on Tuesday he went to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to apply for a concealed weapon permit.

“Trump scares me because some people will think he’s right. But what scares me more are the radical Muslims here,” said Saeid, who is controversial among Syrians for his political views on his homeland.

In his writings, Saeid said he has urged U.S. Muslims to integrate into American culture. He’s also criticized some fellow Muslims for encouraging fanaticism.

Over the weekend, he called police after finding a security camera covered with black tape outside the office of another business he owns in Garden Grove.

The Garden Grove Police Department has beefed up patrols around the Islamic Society of Orange County, the oldest mosque in the county, as well as the school affiliated with the mosque, said Lt. Bob Bogue.

“We haven’t had reports of any threats or incidents at the mosque since the San Bernardino shooting,” he said.

“But we did step up patrol to make sure the mosque and school are protected. Every police officer on that beat knows the mosque is there and to look for strange and suspicious activity in the area.”

Syed, of the Shura Council, said Trump’s comments could inspire violence and have already done collateral damage to Muslims and non-Muslims in America.

“There were thousands cheering his comments in that audience,” Syed said.

“Trump will go back to his tower and continue to make his millions. But people in public spaces who have been corrupted by his xenophobic comments will remain. We need to focus on undoing that damage.”

The threats that have come post-San Bernardino, and after Trump, follow a pattern that started with the attack in Paris.

The Orange County Islamic Foundation’s mosque in Mission Viejo received an email threat soon after the Paris killings, according to board member Mahboob Akhter.

In response, the mosque has beefed up security and requested – and received – more attention from police.

“At the mosque, we’ve told members to pray and leave instead of socializing outside the mosque, which could draw unnecessary attention,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate, but something we’ve had to do for the safety of our congregants.”

Trump’s comments about banning Muslims from entering the U.S. has “added fuel to the fire,” Akhter said.

Still, Akhter and others have noted another response – one of support.

“I’ve also received phone calls, emails and face-to-face messages from so many in the community who support us. This shows the true face of America,” Akhter said.

“We are good, kind people who care for each other. Those who don’t are in the minority.”

Contact the writer:;

Leave a Reply