Nestled in the heart of Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains, lies an Evangelical Mecca. Where Christianity and Country music are as indigenous to the region as the seven hills of Lynchburg. And thousands of students make their annual pilgrimage, every fall, to study at the largest Christian University in the world. But in the ‘buckle of the bible belt’ some residents answer a different call to prayer. And if Obama has his way, many of the 100,000 Muslim refugees expected to arrive this year will be dumped right in the heart of America’s Bible Belt, transported and supported on the backs of hardworking US taxpayers.
WSET The Muslim community in the Lynchburg area is made up of around 50 families. Like many of those families, Mohammad and Asma Rahman moved here to seize a better opportunity.
Going only on his word, Asma, Mohammad, and their two sons made their way to Lynchburg in 2006. “We knew about Liberty and Jerry Falwell.”
Asma Rahman says she had reservations and was a little scared. “Here when we came at first, I was a little bit, because I knew there weren’t that many Muslims” said Asma Rahman. “We didn’t have a mosque at the time” added Mohammad Rahman.
A stark contrast to the mosque in New Jersey where their kids attended Islamic school– or their native Bangladesh — home to some of the largest mosques in the world. “People in the Boonsboro area and the Lynchburg area were praying in people’s homes on Fridays” said Mohammad Rahman.
So a group of Muslim families including the Rahmans formed the Greater Lynchburg Islamic Association and raised enough funds to buy and repurpose a home. “Alhamdullilah, we’ve been very grateful” said Mohammed Rahman.
At the same time GLIA was constructing Lynchburg’s first mosque — tensions overseas were escalating as the U.S. entered its 7th year in the ‘War on Terror’. And Al-Qaeda militants and its subsidiaries’ claims to be fighting in the name of Islam, were further changing perceptions of Muslims at home.
9/11 put Islam in the national and international spotlight, often in the context of terrorism. But Asma Rahman can recall an incident that predates the attacks. “When my children were young, I was in New Jersey, my son came home a couple of times even before 9/11 and said mom why do they talk about that we are terrorist?” said Asma.
Since, headlines have been filled with Islamic extremist claiming responsibility for a number of attacks — the Boston Marathon bombings, the Charlie Hebdo attack, brutal beheadings. But how can a religion many of its believers argue is peaceful… be used to justify such atrocities?
“In any religious text out of its content, it becomes a pretext. You can use it for whatever you mean” saidLiberty University professor and Theologian Dr. Chris Gnanakan. Dr. Gnanakan says terrorism justified by religion is often rooted in power and politics.
“Religion was never meant to be volatile. I think peace is what all religions seek. Muslims will say that, Hindus live that and Christians pursue peace” said Gnanakan.
Many Muslims in the U-S have publicly condemned and disassociated themselves from extremist views. “We are non-violent people… Sometimes people get scared because of hearing all the news. And sometimes that may lead to something but fortunately for me I haven’t been exposed to any of that” said Mohammed Rahman.
The Rahman family has now lived in Lynchburg for 8 years. They say from the start, their neighbors welcomed them with open arms. “As they interact with us, they see what we are, so I never felt any kind of discrimination” said Mohammad Rahman.
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