Source: The Frederick News-Post

By Brandi Bottalico

Guests removed their shoes Tuesday night at the Islamic Society of Frederick masjid as women sat in the back and men in the front.

As the sun set and Muslims broke a religious fast, about 100 people gathered to call for unity and prayer for victims of the Orlando mass shooting, in which Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured dozens of others at a gay nightclub.

Mateen was believed to be connected to Islamic radicalism, casting a bad image in the media for Muslims, many speakers at Tuesday’s event said.

The event, an opportunity to share the religion’s teachings and traditions, began after all stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Zainab Chaudry, the Maryland outreach manager for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said the Orlando attack was antithetical to Islamic teachings, but when perpetrators are Muslim, the community sees hate crimes and attacks. She said the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex community and the Muslim community have stood together numerous times.

Frederick Police Department Chief Ed Hargis said only the person involved should be held accountable; people are most afraid of the unknown.

Rabbi Jordan Hersh, from Beth Sholom Congregation, said it wasn’t long ago that Jews were stigmatized in similar ways. He said they know intimately what it’s like to be linked to falsehoods.

He said that in terrorists’ minds, targets are chosen because they represent what the attackers believe is wrong in the world. But the Pulse nightclub in Orlando represents everything right in the country, as a symbol of Americans’ rights to live and express their true self, he said.

“I see our obligation to refuse to categorize people into different groups,” he said.

Zahid Bukhari, a former president of the Islamic Circle North America, said many religious communities — Jews, Catholics and others — have gone through similar condemnations in history.

He said Muslims look to learn from their experience, but American leaders aren’t learning from their own history, as shown by Japanese internment camps.

Bukhari asked: “Why would we like to do that again?”

Roger Wilson, government affairs and public policy director for the Frederick County executive, challenged people to be uncomfortable and get to know others’ experiences.

Delegate Karen Lewis Young, D-District 3A, said she will continue supporting banning gun ownership for those on the no-fly list and domestic offenders, as well as making sure civilians don’t have access to assault weapons and strengthening funding and support to handle mental health problems.

She said Mateen didn’t act because of his religion. “He did what he did because he had access to weapons he shouldn’t have,” she said, adding that she thought he had mental health problems. “I hold elected officials responsible.”

Her husband, state Sen. Ron Young, encouraged people to voice their opinions to elected officials, so they can accurately represent the public opinion, and to vote.

Frederick Mayor Randy McClement said the city is a collection of neighborhoods and together, they share things in common that thread everyone together. But there are differences among them.

“The things that make us different are the things that make us strong,” he said.

As County Executive Jan Gardner began to speak, women and men passed out dates and water to the audience to prepare to break the fast for Ramadan, when Muslims fast and focus on prayer and charity.

Gardner said she felt the hospitality. She said all major religions have some common basic concepts, such as “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Islamic Society of Frederick resident scholar Bilal Malik talked of the Prophet Muhammad and how teachings of Islam are not as they are portrayed in the media.

“This is the real Islam, not the ISIS,” he said.

Many who spoke said they are sad to be coming together during tragedy.

Malik invited them to come back “with or without invitation. You are more than welcome.”