After a presidential election that divided the country and often stoked tensions against minorities, a group of roughly 40 mostly women and children shared a different message Friday.
“We love our Muslim neighbors,” the signs read.
The visitors – members of the pro-Hillary Clinton group Pantsuit Nation – toured the Islamic Society of Greater Charlotte on The Plaza and greeted worshipers with smiles and signs of support before an afternoon service.
The goal: “To show we love them,” said Kristi Tolman, 40, who stopped by the Islamic center during her lunch hour. “They have to be scared because of all the hateful rhetoric.”
During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump asked that the U.S. temporarily halt all Muslims from entering the country. His statements, which some said led to increasing distrust and hate against Muslim Americans, came after a husband and wife who supported ISIS killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.
Friday, Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy organization, denounced Trump’s selection of Michael Flynn as national security adviser. Flynn has called Islam “a cancer.”
Victoria Abdelfattah, a Muslim and member of Pantsuit Nation, said she has not been physically harassed but has seen “more double-takes and not-so-nice looks” since the election.
“It has caused a lot more divisiveness,” she said. “But I’m not going to let this hate run my life.”
The day after Trump won Abdelfattah, 25, bought a small canister of pepper spray at Bass Pro Shop. It’s best to be safe, she said.
The FBI released data Monday that showed reported hate crimes against Muslims in America rose to their highest numbers in 2015 since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Hate crimes against Muslims increased 67 percent from 2014-15 and dwarfed the 6.7 percent increase in hate crimes as a whole.
Atif Chaudhry, who leads the Islamic center, said there are roughly 20,000 Muslims in Charlotte. He is not aware of a hate crime against any Muslims here but many are anxious, he said.
“The greatest concern is security right now,” Chaudhry said. “We’re scared of being attacked or being insulted, especially in front of our children.”
Friday a police car sat in the center’s parking lot. Naqash Choudhery, spokesman for the Islamic center, said that’s normal, since services on Fridays see about 250 – more than any other day.
But he said the event’s show of acceptance goes beyond what security can provide.
“Trust me,” Choudhery told the crowd. “You might not think this, but this will go a long way in the community ... The love is definitely greater than the hate.”
Reporter Tim Funk contributed.