About 3,000 Muslims gathered Friday for a first-ever prayer service in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol in what turned out to be a peaceful assembly despite the taunts of Christian evangelists on the surrounding sidewalks.
Dressed in colorful tunics, head scarves and robes, members of the well-behaved crowd seemed awed and delighted at being able to pray in such a historic spot. Many posed in groups for photos with the Capitol in the background.
“What we’ve done today, you couldn’t do in any Muslim country,” said Imam Abdul Malik, 42, of Brooklyn, N.Y., the rally organizer who made a 40-minute address to the crowd. “If you prayed on the palace lawn there, they’d lock you up.”
Organizers from Dar-ul-Islam, a mosque in Elizabeth, N.J., had estimated that 50,000 Muslims might show up for the event, and set up a Web site, islamoncapitolhill.com, stating “Our Time Has Come.”
“This is definitely historic,” said Amina Haqq of New York as she walked to the fenced-in site at the west front of the Capitol. “I am glad I lived long enough to see this. Islam is part of America. It is not a Judeo-Christian society; it is a Judeo-Christian-Muslim society.”
Sadara Shaw, a District resident, dressed in an extra-bright orange tunic for the occasion and brought her husband, Eric, and two small children to the event.
“It is a show of solidarity to show all Muslims are not terrorists but law-abiding citizens,” she said.
Many participants drove in from out of state to make a statement by their mere presence.
“We wanted to be together with other Muslims,” said Patan Ahmed, an immigrant from Bangladesh who now lives in the Bronx, N.Y. “We also wanted to support the government of the United States.”
Although the rally was derided by opponents as a sign of creeping “Islamization” of America, speakers took pains to stress their patriotism.
“We believe in America’s possibilities,” Mr. Malik said. “We didn’t come to criticize our nation. … I want the American people to know that we love you.”
His Facebook page, however, had a slightly different message.
“Democracy is not revelation, and democracy does not equal freedom,” said one of his posts, “for in democracy you have apartheid, you have slavery, you have homosexuality, you have lesbianism, you have gambling, you have all of the vices that are against the spirit of truth; so no we don’t want to democratize Islam, we want to Islamize democracy! That’s what we want.”
Surrounding the gathering were dozens of Christian evangelists who showed up to sermonize, hand out brochures and Christian videos, or simply watch and pray.
“The God of the Koran does not have a son, but the God of the Bible does and his name is Jesus Christ,” shouted Ken McRae, a preacher from North Carolina. “I don’t have to stand by your God because he does not exist.”
Although dozens of police surrounded the Muslim worshippers, rally organizers were clearly infuriated by the more outspoken Christians.
Hassen Abdellah, a New Jersey lawyer, asked them to “please show us some respect.”
He added, “We would never come to a prayer meeting that you have to make a disturbance. … This is a sacred moment on a sacred day. Just as your Sunday is sacred, our Friday is sacred.”
As men and women sat in separate seating areas, Muhammad Jebril, an Egyptian who flew in for the occasion, sang verses of the Koran.
Mr. Malik, who appears in Western clothing on his Facebook page, attended Friday’s assembly dressed like a Saudi sheik in a long white “thobe” robe topped by a loose black robe with gold embroidery and a white headdress - known as a “ghutra” - secured by a doubled black “igal” cord.
He thanked President Obama for his inspiration during last year’s presidential campaign and told his fellow Muslims they were “a tremendous blessing to America,” while at the same time telling them not to lash out against non-believers.
“You don’t hate Jews for being Jews,” he said. “Among them are righteous people.”
Various non-Muslims, he said, had volunteered to help rally organizers “even when the Muslims were hesitant.”
Still, Islamic doctrine trumps all others, he said.
In a vague reference to Christianity, he said: “Anybody who tells you to worship a man is misleading you.” To non-Muslims he said: “It is my intention to invite your children to the worship of the true God.”