The message delivered Monday night in a Minneapolis mosque was clear: We stand with you.
More than 100 elected officials, community leaders, law enforcement officials and faith leaders from churches and synagogues jammed a Cedar-Riverside mosque to condemn the hatred, violence and phobic rhetoric that is erupting against Muslims in the wake of recent U.S. and international terrorist attacks.
"I see unity here," said Jibril Afyari Afyare, president of the Somali-American Citizens League. For nearly two hours, faith leaders stood up to quote messages of peace and love from the Bible, the Qur'an and the Torah. Elected officials urged people to denounce messages of fear and hate. And community activists reminded everyone that they will stand as one.
"We just need to tone down the rhetoric and hate," said Abdisalam Adam, chairman of the Islamic Civic Society of America in Minneapolis.
Islamophobic incidents have risen since the terrorist killings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., and the call by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. "It's worse than after 9/11," Adam said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Minnesota has reported a string of recent incidents locally. A woman wearing a head scarf was almost driven off the road in the Twin Cities and another was forced off a light-rail train, the organization said.
"People are changing their routines, and not walking alone because of fear," Afyari Afyare said.
State Auditor Rebecca Otto said some Muslim women, especially those who wear hijabs, have become visible targets for anti-Muslim hate. "Some don't even want to leave their homes. They're not sure they can go out and be safe. And that's wrong in the state of Minnesota. We cannot tolerate that."
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, who has prosecuted some young Twin Cities men who allegedly attempted to join terrorist groups, looked around the standing-room-only crowd to say he recently got a taste of Islamophobia after writing an opinion piece that appeared in the Star Tribune last month. In that piece he said: "The current wave of Islamophobia needs to be stopped in its tracks. Minnesota has a thriving, patriotic and entrepreneurial Muslim population. By collectively rejecting attacks on Muslim Minnesotans, we can set an example for the rest of the nation."
Soon afterward, Luger said, the letters and e-mails came in. "I got the hate mail that is a written expression of what I'm afraid so many of you experience on a daily basis," he said. "I also got a tremendous number of letters, e-mails and phone calls from people I've never met before telling me how happy they were that I wrote those words. … We really all are speaking out together against something that has no place in our country."
The standing-room-only crowd applauded and echoed the sentiments of denouncing the anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence that is bubbling across the United States.
"All of us in here know that Donald Trump is a nut case," said the Rev. Jerry McAfee, former head of the Minneapolis NAACP chapter, to laughter and applause. But Trump wouldn't be saying this if "there wasn't a lot of other people believing that nonsense. … How many Donald Trumps exist in the school system that you send your kids to? How many Donald Trumps are operating in the business sector that continue to block your progress?"
Somali leader Abdirizak Bihi said he hopes that Monday's meeting also helps to reassure non-Muslims that his community shouldn't be feared.
"We have fought hard against radicals and extremism," he said. "They are using our name but they don't represent us. Many of us were victims of these terrorists. We came here to find peace and homes. We have fought for eight years to keep them from stealing our young people.
"We were here tonight to celebrate our solidarity," he said.
Staff writer Mila Koumpilova contributed to this report.