Zohra Arastu migrated to the United States from India with her husband, a young surgeon, in 1976.
In addition to being an artist and a mother, she teaches American children how to read translations of the Quran properly. But recently, she has grown more concerned that U.S. presidential candidates are playing the race card against Muslims, preying on “Islamophobia” to gain votes.
“How do we make them stop?” she asked during a forum to promote cross-religious understanding at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia on Monday night. “They are undoing all that we are trying to do here.”
The “town meeting” was organized by the As-Salaam mosque on Monticello Road, whose members are mostly African-American Muslims, and hosted by the seminary. It was the third such meeting to be held at the seminary since the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. About 100 people attended.
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The meeting began with the mosque's Imam, Omar Saheed, who converted to Islam in the 1970s, joining a host of Muslim leaders and organizations across the country to condemn the violence associated with Muslim extremism, including last week's shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., which is considered to be the deadlist act of terrorism on United State's soil since Sept. 11, 2001. Fourteen people were killed in the San Bernardino attack.
The violence “is not coming from Muslims,” he said. “It is coming from a group that is dealing in politics.”
Included on the panel was Mohamad Dahoudi, Imam of the Islamic Center in Augusta, Ga., who said that such condemnations are nothing new. Moderate Muslims have been condemning violence since the World Trade Center attack, and they continue to do so, he said.
He added the drumbeat for constant statements of separation from the terrorists are growing tedious. “We are victims of the extremists as much as you are,” he said.
Several speakers noted that Dylann Roof, who allegedly murdered nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, sometimes attended St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Columbia. “No one blamed all Christians for Dylann Roof,” said the Lutheran seminary's James Thomas. “No one held Lutherans responsible.”
Dahoudi said the group that calls itself Islamic State is a political, not a religious, organization. “They are radicals, terrorists, extremists,” he said. “There is nothing there about faith.”
Dahoudi added that when terrorists, criminals or the mentally ill are first labeled Muslim, “that is not fair.”
For instance, singling out Syrian refugees as a threat to the nation was misguided, he said, adding that none of the Paris shooters were Syrian and none were refugees.
Several Republican presidential candidates and governors, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, have said Syrian refugees should be barred from entering the country. Candidate Donald Trump has advocated barring all Muslims. Dahoudi said that would damage the country's future.
Apple founder “Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant,” he said. “Where would you be without him? No iPhones, no iPads.”