US Muslims gather outside Capitol Hill to pray
Christians protest as thousands mark "day of Islamic unity"
Thousands of Muslim men and women gathered Friday outside the United States Capitol in a "day of Islamic unity" to hold a mass prayer and show their religion was peaceful as a group of Christian protestors gathered to object to the event.
Muslims from across America gathered to perform the weekly Friday prayer on lawns outside the building where President Barack Obama was inaugurated in January of this year.
The event, organized by the Dar-ul-Islam Elizabeth mosque in northeastern New Jersey, was aimed at showing the world "that not all Muslims hate America" and was inspired by Obama's attempt to reach out to Muslims.
"We should also extend our hand," Hassan Abdellah, president of the mosque, told the Los Angeles Times.
"The message was clear. I think the message basically was to let the American public know that all the stigmas that are attached to Muslims are not true," participant Lonnie Shabazz told the AFP news agency.
"We're not extremists and we do not subscribe to the trend of racism. I think that message was achieved today," Shabazz said.
But despite the general good spirit, a group of around 50 Christians gathered to protest against the event and waved banners reading "Trust Jesus" as they handed out flyers to Muslims around the prayer area.
"When Islam is weak, they will be the religion of peace," the paper quoted Rusty Thomas, a minister who traveled with Operation Save America to protest the event, as saying. "When they get the upper hand, out comes the sword."
Muslim leaders generally dismissed the protests but Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the times: "What is noteworthy is that when Muslims seek to participate in society, they are going to face a small minority of bigots and racists."
Abdellah, however, sought to ease the protestors concerns and said "Muslims aren't here to take over the country. They're here to help make it better."
Muslims aren't here to take over the country. They're here to help make it better
President of Dar-ul-Islam Elizabeth