The notes — more than 100 of them — appeared mysteriously.
Handwritten and wrapped in plastic to protect them from the rain, they carried messages of neighborly friendship and solidarity.
“You are loved. You are supported,” read one, on pink paper and adorned with hearts.
“We love you and stand united with you,” read another.
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The scene was the Islamic Center of Tacoma, during the noontime prayer Nov. 25. The notes were placed on the windshields of the many cars parked outside, while inside unknowing worshippers kneeled in prayer, facing toward Mecca.
No one I spoke to at the mosque knows who is directly responsible for them.
But they’re extremely thankful.
The scene was in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, the culmination of a campaign during which the New York real estate developer routinely returned to divisive rhetoric — talk of Muslim registries or bans on Muslims entering the country — that has, understandably, left many Muslim Americans uneasy.
You can just definitely touch the anxiety. I think people are just kind of preparing … in the sense of the Trump administration and what does it mean.
Turan Kayaoglu, associate dean of faculty affairs and student affairs and an associate professor at the University of Washington Tacoma
The gesture was powerful and timely, said Turan Kayaoglu, the associate dean of faculty affairs and student affairs and an associate professor at the University of Washington Tacoma. He’s one of the many worshippers who emerged from the mosque to find the anonymous missives.
Moved by the unexpected discovery, Kayaoglu used the camera on his phone to document what worshippers found waiting for them.
“I think the message was that you are our neighbor, our co-workers or classmates. You are our fellow taxpayers. And we welcome you here,” Kayaoglu told me. “Even though some of the rhetoric at the national level may indicate that you don’t belong, we challenge that, and we stand in solidarity.”
In the wake of Trump’s election, Kayaoglu said tension has been running high among the Muslim Americans who worship at the Islamic Center of Tacoma.
And recent incidents haven’t helped. Kayaoglu pointed to vandalism at a Redmond mosque last month — the smashing of a granite sign out front that the president of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, Mahmood Khadeer, described as a “clear act of hate” — and the Nov. 15 attack on a Muslim student at the University of Washington campus in Seattle, as examples.
“Definitely, there is fear,” Kayaoglu offered. “You can just definitely touch the anxiety. I think people are just kind of preparing … in the sense of the Trump administration and what does it mean.”
Said Seddiki is the 57-year-old secretary of the Islamic Center’s board of trustees. He told me that on the Friday the notes were left, the mosque was approached by a group of what he described as “little kids and mothers” who “said, ‘Can we do it?’ ”
“Yes, please,” Seddiki said he told them.
Seddiki — who said he served 11 years in the Navy — said the anonymous notes aren’t the only messages the mosque has received from the community in the weeks since Trump was elected. A few cards and some flowers have arrived.
As for any negative responses, Seddiki said. “So far we’re good.”
“It really did show a lot,” Seddiki told me. “That’s a good thing to see in this country, when this country goes through turmoil of political matter and you see people coming forward and giving such support to our community.”
Marotha Pasha, a member of the Islamic Center of Tacoma’s board of directors, said worshippers at the mosque have been deeply touched by the gesture.
“We are planning a very strong response to our neighbors, to demonstrate how much we were affected by their gesture,” he said.
Pasha told me that the surprise notes only strengthened the Islamic Center’s desire to do more outreach in the community and build stronger relationships. He described it as a conviction that’s directed by their faith, and to a lesser extent a desire to set the record straight about what it means to be a Muslim.
From my perspective as a Muslim in America, I participated. I pay my taxes. I worked for the Department of Defense. I did everything I can to support this country, looking for a better life here for me and my kids. We are all looking to have stability and live with each other in harmony.
Said Seddiki, secretary of the Islamic Center of Tacoma’s board of trustees
“It is very difficult to carry the responsibility for people who have left a bad stain on the community — meaning the kinds of media exposure that we’re receiving and the word ‘terrorists.’ It’s a very powerful word, and it has a very powerful effect,” Pasha said.
“And when you have a nation of people who are branded as terrorist, based on the unofficial acts of others who have posed themselves, outwardly, as Muslim … I think it is very important — and it is the duty of the Muslims — to put their story out there, to put their truth out there.”
When it comes to what Trump’s presidency will mean, Pasha tells me he’s taking a wait-and-see approach and hoping for the best. Notes like the ones that appeared without warning last week give him hope for the future.
Seddiki, meanwhile, focused on the commonalities of all mankind and described America as “a country where everyone can come and live in peace.”
“From my perspective as a Muslim in America, I participated. I pay my taxes. I worked for the Department of Defense. I did everything I can to support this country, looking for a better life here for me and my kids,” Seddiki said. “We are all looking to have stability and live with each other in harmony.”
Trump is “elected now,” Seddiki said. “If he wants to work with us, we’re ready to work with him.”