Demonstrators linked arms to form a human wall around Muslims and protect them from potential protesters at the state Capitol on Tuesday for Muslim Capitol Day.
Calling themselves "peace observers," the demonstrators joined in support of Muslim participants from across the state who were taking part in the biennial tradition, which is billed as an opportunity for the Muslim community to learn about the political process and meet state lawmakers.
In her welcoming address, Sarwat Husain, president of the San Antonio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), called civic engagement a duty. She acknowledged that there had been anti-Muslim demonstrations recently, but said that that wouldn’t stop the Muslim community from getting involved.
“We are Americans,” she said to applause. “We are tax-paying, law-abiding citizens.”
Husain said Muslims had a duty to reach out to lawmakers and appealed for dialogue.
"The ones who do not want us here, please listen to this: We are here to meet you as well," she said. "Give us a chance to talk to you."
Husain made the same request last week after state Rep. Kyle Biedermann sent a letter to mosque leaders and Muslim student associations surveying their beliefs.
“Get to know us. Be welcoming of us regardless of our faiths, gender, class or anything else,” she said Thursday. “[Biedermann’s] intolerance of Texas Muslims is putting this segment of our state into a more vulnerable position. His treatment of Muslims is giving fuel to the fire of Islamophobia that is running rampant in our state.”
On Tuesday, Alia Salem, director of the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, thanked both Biedermann and President Trump.
"They are the ones whose actions inspired you to be here today," she said. "I am grateful to see that hate can turn into absolute love."
Watch her speech below:
Many of the speakers' remarks touched on the current political climate, Islamophobia and Trump's recent executive order restricting immigration. State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, told the crowd that it is a dangerous time for the country and for Texas, but she said she has hope.
“I know this country can be a place of love and respect, not the hatred and division that has been revealed recently,” she said. “So while I am troubled by the turmoil, I am heartened by the resistance. There is discord in the country, but it is discord borne of patriotism and love of country.”
Austin resident Aziza Faruqi, who was attending Muslim Capitol Day for the first time, told KUT’s Syeda Hasan that she was there to combat misconceptions about Islam.
“To think that a faith, any religion, can condone terrorism, that is very offensive to that faith,” she said. “And we are showing solidarity here to make them realize that we are all as conscientious citizens of the United States as anyone else.”
Two years ago, the event was interrupted by people who yelled "Islam is a lie" and "No Sharia here," but Tuesday's event was peaceful. Only a small number of protesters showed up, Hasan reports.
— Syeda Hasan (@KUTsyeda) January 31, 2017