Local Muslim group reports threats, increased 'Islamophobia' | St. Louis Public Radio

Local Muslim group reports threats, increased 'Islamophobia'

Dec 9, 2015

Updated at 9:28 a.m. on Dec. 9, 2015, with confirmation from CAIR-St. Louis:

A local Muslim leader said he received a threatening call that he then reported to the FBI.

Executive director of the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Faizan Syed said the caller who made the threat against his organization was arrested by the FBI.

A spokeswoman for the FBI's St. Louis division would not confirm or deny whether a complaint had been received, but said in an email "the FBI and our local, state and federal law enforcement partners address any complaint about a threat."

The public relations committee chair for a separate organization, the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, Ghazala Hayat, said the message was left by a man upset over the recent shootings in San Bernardino, which authorities say were carried out by a husband and wife who were Muslim. Hayat said last month's terrorist attacks in Paris, for which the self-proclaimed Islamic State took responsibility, may have also contributed, as has "some politicians' rhetoric."

"Anybody being threatened is distressing; if a person of your community is being harassed just because of the faith, it’s even more distressing," Hayat said.

Hayat said such painful incidents of "Islamophobia" are on the rise due to ignorance and bias. She said a member of her mosque was recently harassed outside his workplace and told to "go back to your country."

"People are just taking it out on Muslims, not realizing that a small fraction of people is committing this terrorism, these terrible crimes," she said. "They are Muslim, but they do not represent Islam, and they do not speak for all the Muslims. In fact, in recent years, more Muslims have been killed by these terrorist organizations, not non-Muslims."

Hayat's organization, CAIR-St. Louis, and other Muslim organizations held a press conference Sunday to condemn the San Bernardino shootings. 

"It's like a collective guilt imposed - you have to respond," she said. "Our community just keeps saying, 'Why are we issuing a statement? We are not responsible, we didn’t do it. We stand with the rest of the country. Why are we being singled out to condemn every time?"

Hayat said she understands the frustration from the Islamic Foundation's members, who ask why Muslims must respond, while Christians aren't made to condemn attacks such as a recent shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic.

But Hayat said she chose to speak out after last week's shootings because "our countrymen were hurt" and she wanted to let people know those who perpetrated the attacks do not represent her faith. 

"Anytime these tragic events happen, when these terrorists happen to be Muslim and are manipulating our faith, we are hurt on two levels, maybe three levels," she said.

The Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis recently posted to its website letters of support from non-Muslim neighbors, condemning harassment, after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Credit Courtesy Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis

On the first level is the hurt all people share when others lose their lives in tragic events, she said. On another level, Hayat said, there is hurt when such incidents are perpetrated by someone belonging to her faith, who has "manipulated" Islam. The third level of hurt is when that "collective guilt is placed."

"I would like people to know we are all in this together (against) this terrorism," she said. 

Some in the St. Louis community have responded with support for their Muslim neighbors against harassment. Hayat's mosque recently posted letters of support on its website.

But Hayat said she knows that unfortunately, hate crimes - and acts of terrorism - will continue, and her organization is taking precautions by sending safety tips to its members.

"The best thing is we're telling everybody, 'If you hear any threat, contact law enforcement,'" she said.