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Leader of Harford's Muslim community denounces Trump travel ban, calls it 'un-American'

A leader of Harford County's Muslim community is speaking out against the travel ban imposed last weekend by President Donald Trump on people entering the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, as well as anyone trying to leave the U.S. to visit those countries.

"We are getting messages of help and support from all corners," Dr. Rehan Khan, president of Masjid Al-Falaah in Abingdon, said in a statement released late Monday. "We as Muslims are fortunate to have neighbors who will stand shoulder to shoulder in case of any adversity."

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"It is the greatness of this nation that spontaneous protests broke out all over United States supporting the Muslims and American values," the statement continued. "Sixteen state attorneys general, including the Attorney General of Maryland, have signed a joint statement condemning this unconstitutional and un-American Muslim Exclusion Executive Order. This is a rare occasion when the whole world is standing up for Muslims."

Khan said Tuesday morning that Masjid Al-Falaah, whose Harford Education Society is off Route 7, has not yet received any complaints of members being detained abroad or unable to the leave the U.S., but Trump's action has sent an ominous, mixed message to a sizable immigrant community in Harford County, including many professional people who Khan says routinely travel abroad.

"We don't know what will come next, because there have been mixed messages from the White House," he said in a telephone interview. "There's a fear of not knowing. What other countries might still be included?"

Approximately 200 families belong to Masjid Al-Falaah, many comprised of second or first generation immigrants from a variety of countries, according to Khan, who came to the U.S. from India as a teenager and is now in his 50s and a U.S. citizen.

"People cannot be discriminated against based on which God they worship," he said, noting that such discrimination goes against the same American values and principles that have attracted generations of people to settle in this country. "The United States is a welcoming country of immigrants," he said. "Except for the Native Americans, everyone came from somewhere else."

Khan also said the U.S. already has a strong vetting process in place for people visiting or emigrating from abroad, noting it typically takes months to secure a visa to get into the country.

He scoffed at Trump's claim that the ban on people entering from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, as well as his order that the U.S. won't take in any refugees until stronger vetting procedures are in place, is necessary to stop terrorists from getting inside the country's borders.

"Not one of the 911 terrorists came from any of the countries" listed in the ban, Khan said. "Terrorists aren't lined up waiting to get over the border. It's been shown that the chances of an American being killed by a terrorist is one in 3.6 billion, with a 'B.'"

A rally against the travel ban at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Sunday night attracted an estimated 2,000 people. It was one of several similar protests around the U.S. and the world.

Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat who represents southern Harford County in the U.S. House of Representatives, attended the BWI rally and shared photos thanking those in attendance.

"This is what being an American is all about," Ruppersberger stated on Twitter.

But Congressman Andy Harris, a Republican, who represents northern Harford County, issued a statement supporting the president's action.

"I support the President's Executive Order to increase the vetting of refugees and immigrants entering the United States from countries where ISIS has a significant presence," Harris said. "The Executive Order temporarily suspends visas issued to individuals from seven specific countries prone to terrorism – similar to President Obama's temporary ban on visas for refugees from Iraq in 2011 for the same reason."

"The vetting of individuals seeking to immigrate into the United States from countries where ISIS has a significant presence must be increased to better protect Americans' safety and our national security," Harris continued. "As President Trump noted, the seven countries are the same countries previously identified by the Obama Administration as sources of terror. I also applaud the decision to prioritize entry of those refugees who are religious minorities fleeing religious persecution, whether those minorities are Muslims, Yazidis, Zoroastrians or Christians."

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"The United States should resume issuing visas to all these countries only after a review of these policies is completed, and only if the countries comply with supplying the information necessary to allow complete vetting," Harris concluded.

"I condemn the President's executive orders and commit to use my authority to fight discrimination and hate," Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh wrote on Twitter. "It is saddening and disgraceful when the President misuses his authority to demonize immigrants, spew hate and sow fear."

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin also took to Twitter Sunday to share his thoughts.

"I call upon [President Trump] to rescind his ExecOrder before it does any more damage to our national security or endangers the lives of Americans," Cardin wrote. "This betrayal of friends & those who stood w/us will make the US less safe & places our servicemen and servicewomen in even greater danger."

"As Muslims, we are all concerned for the safety and security of this nation," Khan said in his written statement. "This kind of action will malign our image worldwide. We live in a global village. We cannot live in isolation. This is bad for our security, this is bad for our economy. Last year international tourism brought in $250 billion."

Khan also said he is concerned about a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes and said he has advised Harford Muslims that they need to observe patience and not react emotionally, even if verbally attacked.

"If any one faces any form of discrimination they need to file a complaint in writing," he said. "Let the law enforcement people do their work. No one is above the law. When Harford County Sheriff Mr. [Jeffrey] Gahler visited the Masjid, he advised us not to engage with people who are disrespectful and ignorant but inform the law enforcement."

"At Masjid Al-Falaah we are watching the situation closely. We thank all the individuals, politicians, organizations including churches and synagogues for their support," Khan said. "Last but not the least, we thank the media for their due diligence and free and fair reporting."

The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.

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