Muslims left the Islamic Center of Tacoma one Friday after the presidential election to find notes left on their vehicles after they’d finished prayer.
“We love you,” and “We love our Muslim neighbors,” were some of the messages.
On Saturday, members of the mosque showed their gratitude for the support — messages and phone calls the past few months have been overwhelming, they say — by throwing what they called Muslim Community Appreciation Day.
There was chicken and rice, salads and cake. Visitors could get henna temporary body art on their hands and wrists. And there was a booth where someone wrote names in Arabic calligraphy.
“We just wanted to give back and to respond to such kind messages that we were receiving,” said 19-year-old Elham Jmaileh, one of the event’s volunteers. “This is the first time we have invited people inside of our mosque (for an event such as this).”
Organizers worried that the space was too small and that there wouldn’t be enough parking. And the lot did fill up.
But they felt it was important to hold the celebration at the center, not somewhere else.
“We really wanted people to come and see us in our place of worship,” Jmaileh said.
About 400 visitors indicated online that they planned to come, and she thinks that’s about how many showed up.
“This means so much to me as a Muslim who has grown up in a community where all I have ever wanted to do was to feel like I belong,” she said about the gathering. “And that is what America is about.”
Guests were encouraged to ask questions about the Islamic faith, and she said lots of visitors asked about the head coverings that many Muslim women wear. And women who were interested could try on a head scarf for themselves at one of the booths.
Visitor Kate Vargish said she had been curious about the mosque and had wanted to see the inside. But she wasn’t sure it would be appropriate to ask.
“I had this fear that I’d be intruding on a sacred space,” she said.
Saturday she was welcomed inside, and visitors were told they were honorary members of the mosque.
“Thank you so much for accepting our invitation today,” Imam Ahmad Saleh told the crowd. “We need to be here together, hand in hand, supporting one another.”
Many elected officials spoke and reiterated that members of the mosque are welcome members of the community.
“I want you to know, every person in this room, that you are valued and loved,” U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer said.
He told those gathered that he would oppose policies such as any kind of religious registry, Muslim or otherwise.
Though the showing of support for the mosque in recent months seems to be sparked by President Donald Trump’s election and policies — including his work to ban travel to the U.S. from certain Muslim-majority countries — politics were not the focus of the day.
“It was great to see that we can kind of go beyond the political rhetoric and appreciate one another for being human,” said Devon Johnson, a Pacific Lutheran University student.
Some guests planned to visit again.
When University Place Police Chief Mike Blair spoke, he said he didn’t know before that children learn the Quran by singing it and that he thought that was beautiful. And he didn’t know before that he could walk into the mosque.
Saturday he heard what he was told was a quiet prayer.
“I’m coming back for the loud one,” he said.