ROCK HILL York County Muslims condemned the attacks in Belgium this week at the hands of extremist Muslim radicalsas murderous “evil” that has nothing to do with Islam, but remain wary of the political fallout against patriotic Muslims after the latest acts of terrorism.
Muslims at Rock Hill’s mosque and at a Muslim community near York called Holy Islamville - as individuals and groups - publicly denounced the violence and killings as mass murder - as they have repeatedly in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. After attacks in Paris, California, England, and other sites around the world, York County Muslims have quickly and forcefully denounced the violence.
“What happened in Brussels was not Islam - what happened there is evil and murder,” said James “Jumah” Moore, executive director of the Islamic Center of South Carolina, which is based at a mosque a block west of downtown Rock Hill.
Sultan Al Mami, from the Saudi city of Medina, who graduated from Winthrop University in 2013 and now works as a telecommunications contractor, said terrorism does not represent Islam and that his heart aches for those who died from what he called “hate.”
“All of our prayers and thoughts are out to all the families...in Rock Hill we are all deeply against terrorism,” Al Mami said. “Here in Rock Hill, we are part of the community. We live here. We love it.”
Residents at Holy Islamville also immediately called the Brussels attacks despicable, condemning the attacks as the worst type of terrorism, said Fatimah Mobley, whose father is one of Islamville’s founders and a decorated Vietnam War veteran. Holy Islamville has been in York County since 1982 and despite several times being the target of anti-Muslim media reports and claims of terrorist camps, extremism and more, has never been and is not a threat to York County or America, York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant has said.
Islamic leaders in both Rock Hill and Islamville understand, however, that radical attacks by jihadist Muslims will continue to put the public eye of skepticism, cynicism and worry on them here in York County. Be it ISIS or any other radical Islamic terror group, attacks without question turn all eyes toward American Muslims.
“We will continue to show everyone here in York County, in Rock Hill, that we are Americans, we are neighbors, that we have so much in common with the rest of the community,” Moore said.
The glaring eye of concern is not without merit. ISIS and radicals are without question killers and right here in York County a year ago police and prosecutors said a teen from York bent on mass murder and joining ISIS was arrested before any violence happened. The teen pleaded guilty in a weapons plot with another radical Muslim where the teen planned to join ISIS and kill American troops in North Carolina. Police and prosecutors in York said that the teen, now 17 and denied parole last month but up for release as early as May, was a threat to public safety and national security.
Yet Moore, and Muslims at Islamville, do have concerns about political talk since the attacks and even before. Ted Cruz said this week that the Belgium attacks warrant policing Muslim neighborhoods in the United States.
“Sometimes there are politicians who try and separate us as Americans,” said Moore.
Nazir Cheema, who has lived in Rock Hill for almost four decades, said that politicians can say what they want, but Muslims in America like him remain patriotic.
“I love my country,” Cheema said.
While the Rock Hill mosque near downtown has never been the target of much backlash since opening three years ago, Holy Islamville has received several threats over the years. Two years ago a neighbor pleaded guilty to firing guns while trespassing on the property. And late last year, some protesters stood outside Islamville’s entrance with signs although the act was said to be a prayer service.
The calls by those who claimed Islamville was a threat even reached Congress. The Herald reported exclusively in November that U.S. Rep Mick Muvaney, York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant, and 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett toured Islamville so that Mulvaney would be able to tell the public afterward that he saw for himself Islamville and its residents had been, and remain, no threat to anyone. All claims that Islamville harbored a terrorist training camp, had widespread gunfire, and worse have been shown to be false.
Sheriff Bryant, after an attack against a sister compound to Islamville in New York was foiled by federal agents last year, again vowed to protect Islamville Muslims as he would protect all York County residents. In that case, reported first by The Herald, former Tennessee congressional candidate Robert Doggart and an unidentified man from nearby Greenville plotted to attack the Muslim community with guns and bombs.
Bryant, and his homeland security detective Bob Hamilton, talk often with Islamville Muslims.
“We stay in close contact with the resident of Islamville,” said Trent Faris, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
Additionally, Islamville Muslims invite deputies and the FBI often and want the interaction with law enforcement to both show York County residents that they are neighbors like anyone else while making sure Islamville residents are safe.
Muslims repeatedly have to reassure others that they are patriotic Americans every time a radical Muslim or group commits violent terrorism. Friday at prayer services at Rock Hill’s mosque - Friday is the Muslim holy day - a Winthrop religion class came to watch services. They saw many prayers said for the victims of terrorism. They saw many people angered by terrorism that paints all Muslims as killers.
Sultan Al Mami, the immigrant from Saudi Arabia, said that having to defend his heritage and faith is reality - but Muslims against terrorism can use the chance to “speak out loud” against terrorism and demand that terrorism is stopped and terrorists caught.
“It hurts everybody,” Al Mami said. “They are doing it for hate. Everybody should be united against this thing and cut it out from the roots.”