This week, a Texas Muslim group’s “Adopt-A-Highway” sign was vandalized in Round Rock, just north of Austin. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Austin cleans litter from the highway every three months. Last weekend, someone spray-painted over the words “Ahmadiyya Muslim”, leaving only the word “Community.” Below, they left a handwritten note reading “A Christian Community USA.”
Members of the Ahamadiyya Muslim Community suspect that the vandalism was done by someone who is “misinformed” about Islam. As the community’s general secretary Yasir Mirza told KUT, “A lot of bad things are happening in the world that are done in the name of Islam by Al Qaeda or ISIS. In fact, those groups have distorted the real message of Islam, and we are trying to show the true teachings of Islam. We do these community service things to try to prove the point that we are not like that.” Some of the group’s community service efforts include “feeding homeless people, visiting residents at nursing homes and organizing blood drives.”
Sadly, this hasn’t been the first time the Ahamadiyya Muslim Community has faced discrimination from the community. Their request to march in the 2013 Round Rock Fourth of July parade was initially denied due to “safety” concerns from organizers. Eventually, representatives from the two groups met and reconciled, and the Muslim community was allowed to march in the parade, and even organized a blood drive and school supply campaign.
The rise of xenophobic, anti-Muslim rhetoric has been a consequence of the recent media spotlight on extremist groups like ISIS. With everyone from Texas politicians to late-night comedians pushing negative stereotypes and refusing to understand that the actions of an extremist group don’t represent a religion of more than one billion people, it’s unfortunate, but unsurprising, that some people have chosen to take that out on a group trying to make a positive difference in the community.
For their part, the Ahamadiyya Muslim Community has reacted to the vandalism with grace, and hasn’t lost their commitment to promoting understanding in their community. Muhammad Ahmad, the Ahamadiyya Muslim Community’s outreach coordinator, told KXAN, “Anybody who wants to come talk to us about Islam– their understanding and any misunderstandings they have, we urge them to come clear it up. We are always open door. We even invite the person who did this to come talk to us.”
Mirza had similar things to say, telling KEYE, “It’s sad that somebody would do that, but just like we don’t want to be judged by acts of some Muslims, or people who claim to be Muslims, in the Middle East like ISIS or al-Qaeda, we don’t want to be judged like them similarly so we won’t judge the people of Round Rock or Austin area just by the act of a person who did this.”
If only our politicians could be as open to dialogue, instead of resorting to fear-mongering, then perhaps understanding could replace fear, and prevent more incidents like this from happening in the future.