Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) speaks about phobia at first Muslim Caucus Education Collective conference July 23 at National Housing Center in Northwest. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

One day after President Donald Trump reiterated racist remarks about four congresswomen he called “racist” and “not very smart,” a group of American Muslims, activists and community leaders presented their own message: Speak out against phobia.

The Muslim Caucus Education Collective, a nonprofit organization that seeks to combat hate through grassroots efforts, hosted a two-day discussion at the National Housing Center in Northwest, July 23 – 24.

Ghazala Salam, president of the caucus, said discussions started seven months ago as a means of eliminating hate and incorporate political harmony when the president spews racist language which cause division in America.

“It’s time to turn up the heat on the racial and religious justice debate in this country,” she said. “We have got to open up our mouths, speak up and stand up because if we don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for us.”

Trump criticized Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen, Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, during a rally July 14 in North Carolina where Trump supporters chanted “send them back.”

Omar represents the only person born outside of the U.S. but became a citizen in 2000.

On Monday, Trump reiterated those comments and labeled the Congresswomen “the squad” and as a “racist group of troublemakers” who are “so bad for our country!”

Omar spoke about phobia and political discourse during Tuesday’s conference.

“Don’t allow this to make you diminish your voice,” she said. “Make sure you use this energy to make yourselves more visible to speak louder, have more courage and to be bolder because with this particular challenge we have an opportunity to rise more than we have risen before.”

During the conference Tuesday in D.C., the NAACP concurrently announced that delegates at its convention in Detroit voted unanimously for the House to call for Trump’s impeachment.

“The pattern of Trump’s misconduct is unmistakable and has proven time and time again, that he is unfit to serve as the president of this country,” Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement.

“From his attempts to curtail the scope of Robert Mueller’s investigation to calling out minority congresswomen and telling them to go back to their countries, to caging immigrant children without food or water to his numerous attempts to avert the Supreme Court’s decision to not add in the citizenship question to the 2020 Census – this president has led one of the most racist and xenophobic administrations since the Jim Crow era,” he said.

The Muslim Collective also issued a statement of support with the NAACP.

“The NAACP’s resolution to support the impeachment of Trump is a statement of moral values. We’d like to see more communities and organizations take a clear stand against his divisiveness,” the statement acknowledged. “This is a question of where we all stand. The resolution is an important move because what our president is doing is morally wrong.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), left, speaks on a panel about phobia July 23 at the first Muslim Caucus Foundation Collective conference at the National Housing Center in Northwest. Others on the panel include (L to R): Virginia Del. Sam Rasoul, Khzir Khan and Abdul El-Sayed. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Under Trump’s presidency, Islamophobia has increased, according to a report released last year from The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The report, titled “Targeted,” points to a 17 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents in 2017 from 2,213 to 2,599. Hate crimes also increased from 260 to 300, or 15 percent, during that same year.

“We have to defend the values that we all believe in – diversity, inclusion and fairness – which have been trampled on by the current administration and many hate-mongers,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR. “The political moment for us is to be in the forefront and not to complain, but assert ourselves and help ourselves and other people.”

Dozens of Muslim American politicians, advocates and community leaders participated in the two-day conference which focused on health care, economic and racial injustice and how Muslims can become more engaged in their respective communities.

At least three Democratic presidential candidates spoke during the conference: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday and Sen. Elizbeth Warren of Massachusetts and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday.

De Blasio, whose city represents the largest number of Muslim Americans in the nation, received rousing applause when he mentioned the city’s public schools remain one of the few to honor two Muslim holidays – Eid al-Adha in September and Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of the holy month Ramadan.

“This community gives so much to our nation – millions and millions of people who contribute to our economy, contribute to our culture [and] contribute to our political life,” de Blasio said. “More and more Muslims representing not only their own communities, but all communities.”

Former Maryland state Del. Aruna Miller of Montgomery County said the work to combat hateful rhetoric starts locally and peacefully. She now serves as executive director of Impact, which helps endorse Indian American candidates for political office.

“We [must] collectively ban together with our brothers and sisters of all minority communities and stick up for one another,” she said. “I think that is how we overcome this type of rhetoric and this type of hate.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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