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Despite Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Nationally, Vermont Community Responds With Support

Angela Evancie
Muslims from Vermont and neighboring states celebrate the end of Ramadan at the Sheraton Hotel in Burlington on July 28, 2014. Despite the recent wave of national anti-Muslim rhetoric, the Islamic Society of Vermont has been getting support.

Since the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino there has been a fresh wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric across much of the United States.

Yet the reaction in Vermont has largely been marked by acceptance of the Muslim community. Many Vermonters have expressed their support to the Islamic Society of Vermont, where about 200 people worship each week.

“We are being very fortunate here in Vermont, we’ve been receiving a lot of encouragement and support from our neighbors and faith colleagues, from churches and from synagogues,” says Imam Islam Hassan, the religious leader of the Vermont Society of Islam.  
Hassan says the center has received positive emails and messages of support, “and even at some point we found some fruits on the doorstep, and some flowers.”

“We were feeling very welcome,” he says.

The Vermont Society of Islam opened in the late 1990s. There are five daily services for worship, and the community also observes Ramadan and other Muslim rituals.

Hassan says the space serves as a center of worship and a community center, and everyone is welcome. “Our doors are open," he says.

Saddened by any loss of human life

As for the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Hassan says he’s saddened to hear about the killings: “It’s very saddening for any human being to hear the killing of an innocent people. No matter what religion you are, what faith you may be adhering to.”

“From the religious point of view I always feel sad and disappointed when I see people hijacking my faith and acting under its name and distort the reputation of Islam,” Hassan says.

“A lot of people have to pay the price for their mistakes and for their many actions.”

Muslims speak out against terrorism

Even as President Barack Obama has described the Muslim community as peaceful people who would never think of killing others, the president has called on the Muslim community to nevertheless help speak out against this kind of violence and be vigilant about helping law enforcement prevent it.

Hassan says he agrees with this perspective.

“I think it reflects the condition of the Muslim community, either here in the United States or in the Muslim countries,” he says. Hassan pointed out that about 36 Muslim countries have formed a coalition against terrorism.

If refugees relocated to the United States or Canada did end up being involved in an act of terror — what would he say?

“I totally understand that people care for their country, people care for their safety ... unfortunately the tragedy that happens in California was not carried out by immigrants, it was carried out by U.S. born citizen.”

Hassan says there is a good and bad side of every human being, and unfortunately terror can come from anywhere — from a U.S. citizen, from an immigrant or from someone on a tourist visa.

“So terrorism doesn't have any nationality, it doesn't have any status, it doesn't have any faith. I mean, just terrorism is terrorism; evil is evil, it doesn't have to come from a certain source.”

Editor's note: VPR rents office space in Colchester from the Islamic Society of Vermont.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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