GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The topic of terrorism is front and center across the United States, especially since the San Bernardino shootings. Donald Trump called for an outright ban on allowing Muslims into our country.
Muslims in Grand Rapids say that when anything terrorist-related happens, whether it's in California or in France, Michigan residents look at them with a certain amount of suspicion.
Maaz Qureshi says most of local Muslims hope for one thing. “Whenever something like this happens, a shooting or a crime of any sort, I think everyone hopes it’s not anyone related to them or can be tied to them, because no one wants to be associated with those kinds of acts."
Qureshi recently obtained city approval to convert a building on Division Avenue in Grand Rapids into a mosque. He hopes that it won't just be Muslims coming to the mosque but also others in the community seeking more information on Islam in hopes of dispelling rumors. “It would be a place people can come and learn about the religion of Islam, where people can feel comfortable asking questions, where they can find a group of Muslims that can actually answer questions and speak to them at an academic level,” said Qureshi.
Qureshi says the Muslim community in Grand Rapids is constantly growing, with at least a dozen countries represented.
Following recent attacks, Muslims have been the focus of a lot of conversations, and subject to a lot of comments.
Qureshi says these conversations affect Muslims everywhere.
“We are the ones looked at with a certain level of suspicion, which is understandable if people don’t know Muslims and they haven’t seen anything besides what they are watching on TV,” he said.
Qureshi says the violence that we are seeing on TV from terrorists is far from what Muslims believe, that they believe the exact opposite. He and others are hoping the new mosque can change a few minds.
For now, Qureshi says local Muslims are ready for any adversity that comes their way. “At the same time we try to be ready for it and be proactive so that we don’t get lumped in with that kind of crowd just because they have a similar name to us or they come from a similar country and so forth,” said Qureshi.
Qureshi said he hasn't specifically received any blowback from anyone about the mosque. A local group hopes to raise between $250,000 and $300,000 by the end of 2016 so that construction on the mosque can begin in 2017.
Top United States security officials have said Trump's proposal to deny Muslims entry to the U.S. is not only offensive but would undermine national security.
“The fact of the matter is Isis wants to frame this as a war between the United States and Islam,” said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, "and if we look like we're applying religious tests to those who come into this country, we're sending a message that essentially we're embracing that."