Mahmoud Abdel Hadi , imam at Maryum Islamic Center in Ellicott City, has been fielding anxious calls from some of the center's female members. After the mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., some have asked the clergyman whether they should remove their head coverings so as not to stand out.
"I'm telling them that no, do not do that. ... We need to do the opposite," Hadi said Saturday. "We need to show ourselves more and talk about who we are and what we stand for."
"The anxiety generally in the Muslim community is increasing so much. ... It is a potent atmosphere."
Muslim leaders in Maryland have condemned the attack, allegedly by a Muslim couple, that left 14 people dead. They're also are working with clergy of other faiths to try to defuse what they see as growing anti-Muslim sentiment since the ISIS attacks in Paris last month.
On Saturday, nearly 100 people of a range of faiths and beliefs crowded into the Maryum center to hear messages of tolerance from Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders aimed at countering the potential targeting of Muslims and preventing the development of a wedge between Muslims and others that they say is desired by extremists.
People Acting Together in Howard, or PATH, planned the event weeks before the California attack. Husband and wife suspects Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, killed in a shootout with police, were reportedly devout Muslims who had become radicalized.
The Rev. Gerry Bowen, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Columbia and a co-founder of PATH,, said the attacks have created a climate of fear in which Muslims "are being targeted as outsiders, as foreigners."
"They have been harassed and don't feel safe," he said. "This is not a value that we share among religions or in our community. ... We believe in justice and equal treatment of one another.
"We will not allow a wedge to be driven between sisters and brothers in our community."
The Ellicott City event was one of several planned by affiliates of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a national network of multi-faith community groups.
Muslim groups in the state and around the country have been holding vigils for the California victims.
"As neighbors and religious leaders and people working with communities... we need to know about one another and the problems we have," Hadi said.
Hadi said he believes Muslims who are more recent immigrants to he U.S. — and who have had an easier time maintaining ties with their roots than previous groups of immigrants — are sometimes perceived as less American.
"People look at this as something negative. It's positive," he said. "We should celebrate our differences."