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Harford Muslims 'concerned' after rise in anti-Islam rhetoric

Muslims in Harford County, as throughout the state, have been staying wary in light of a new upswing in anti-Muslim talk and threats after the Nov. 13 terror attacks in France.

"We are concerned. We are watching the situation very closely, because after the Paris attacks, the anti-Muslim rhetoric is raised ever higher," Dr. Rehan Khan, president of Masjid Al Falaah, a mosque in Abingdon, said last week.

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The mosque has not requested extra police patrols after the French rampage, in which the Islamic State claimed responsibility for killing 130 people.

Khan said he did consult with the Harford County Sheriff's Office after a group called Global Rally for Humanity urged people to protest at mosques nationwide in early October.

The Sheriff's Office told him he did not know of any specific threats locally in connection with that event, Khan said.

With politicians railing against Islam and even calling for measures like a Muslim database, Khan said some believe the danger to local Muslims is even higher now than it was after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, which were likewise followed by threats and violence against Muslims and Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims.

The United Maryland Muslim Council has asked local law enforcement to step up vigilance in light of the rhetoric, president Rizwan Siddiqi said via email.

"We are seriously concerned about the backlash and anti-Muslim sentiments growing in [the] general public due to the acts of ISIS and thanks to the negative propaganda by the media," Siddiqi said. "We have reached out to the local authorities to make sure that our mosques and places of worship are protected and are safe to be used by the Muslims for prayers and to perform other services."

"We have full confidence on local authorities and law enforcement agencies that they are doing a great job and we can count on them in case of any undesirable incident," he added. "Additionally, we have been working with our community members and advising them to be vigilant and keep an eye on anyone who may create any disturbance any be on their own watch. We as Muslims believe that ISIS and groups like ISIS will be exposed soon and American public will realize the situation. Muslims are law-abiding, peace-loving and hard-working citizens like anyone else and will work with other fellow Americans to get over this fear."

The UMMC condemned ISIS and asked all imams to condemn the "heinous act of terrorism" in France, according to a statement the group issued.

Muslims were asked "to follow the developments closely and stay alert and vigilant against any possible backlash against the Muslims in [the U.S.]," according to the statement.

The group was part of a Nov. 20 interfaith gathering at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., "to send a clear message to the ISIS and their ilk, that American Muslims are angry about their actions. They are to be charged for the violations of human rights, forcing women into slavery, forcible conversions, harassment of Christians, Yazidis, Shias, Sunnis and other minorities, and most certainly creating chaos and abusing the name of Islam," according to a press release sent by Siddiqi.

Khan noted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's recent claim that thousands of New Jersey Muslims held public celebrations after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Issuing those kinds of statements is very counterproductive," Khan said, calling the claim "totally inaccurate."

Harford's mosque had asked for additional protection during the Muslim month of Ramadan in 2012, after the fatal shooting of worshippers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Masjid Al Falaah had just been built in Abingdon; Muslim services had previously been held off of Route 924 in Bel Air South.

Khan said he has not seen any specific threats in Harford County and said he hopes it can stay that way.

"People are more sensible in this area, I think," he continued, pointing out that Imam Omar Baloch, the mosque's spiritual leader recently visited a church and a synagogue.

"We have relationships with people of different faiths," Khan said.

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