RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Dozens of officers at the State Capitol Saturday morning stood between two sets protesters.
One group held a March Against Sharia while the other called its rally United Against Islamophobia and Racism.
ACT! for America coordinated about two dozen of the anti-Sharia marches across the country for Saturday morning, prompting counter protests from Muslims and their allies who said the Sharia title is a fear tactic used to target Islam as a whole.
Richard Roberts with ACT! for America said the rally is not about Islam but about radical Islamic groups. He said most Americans have no idea what Sharia Law is.
“They’re calling us anti-Muslim, Islamophobic. That’s not it. We’re just bringing attention to the cause,” Roberts said.
“Knowledge is key, and that’s what we’re doing today. This is like ground zero, because people aren’t aware. The more we talk about it and hold rallies and bring attention to it,” he added.
About 100 people participated in the March Against Sharia. Speakers talked about the interpretation of Islamic texts to support acts such as female genital mutilation, rape, honor killings, and forcing young girls to marry much older men.
The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies several of the organizations involved in the March Against Sharia as hate groups with radical anti-government views and anti-Muslim associations.
John Martinez, who identified himself as a Donald Trump supporter and not a member of any of the participating organizations, said he is not anti-Muslim but has serious concerns about Sharia Law.
“Americans believe in freedom. Not some cult. It’s a cult, it’s not a religion,” John Martinez said.
“I’m anti-terrorist as well. If you cannot assimilate when you move here to the Untied States, why are you here? Why are you coming over from foreign lands and forcing or trying to force your quote religious beliefs on Americans?” Martinez asked.
Organizers of the counter protest say that is not an accurate understanding of Islam, Sharia, or American laws.
“Legally that’s not a thing. That’s not even possibly a thing,” Fatema Ahmad said.
“It’s a code word that people use to insinuate the Muslims are foreign, that we’re coming here and we’re against American values, which is crazy. There is no threat like that.”
Several hundred people gathered a few blocks from the Capitol for the counter protest. Many were Muslim, but the crowd included clergy from other faiths as well as whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.
John Balla said he came to offer support to all people of color and anyone who faces discrimination. He wants to create a community of inclusion and support, and show that there are many people who don’t buy into hate or racism.
“I would love to not have to be here on a beautiful June day. It’s 2017 and yet here I am with hundreds of other people, making a statement against hate,” Balla said.
“Let that sink in for a minute — it is more than 50 years after the Civil Rights era, and we’re still battling for civil rights issues.”
Kashif Omsaf works with Muslim youth on behalf of The Light House. He said it was incredible to see such diversity at what he described as an anti-Islamophobia event.
Omsaf said people at the March Against Sharia don’t understand enough about Islam, and makes him think he needs to do more to share the truth about his faith.
“It tells me I’m not doing a good enough job by telling people who Muslims are, how we’re just as peaceful as anyone else,” Omsaf said.
“Everyone likes to pick and choose their favorite verses. Sharia is a book of jurisprudence or a compilation of jurisprudences. It tells you things like ‘you’re innocent until proven guilty,’ something that we hold very true in our Constitution,” he said.
“There are so many beautiful elements to it. (People) like to pick the hateful ones to support (their) own message,” Omsaf added.
The counter protest organizers said they did not expect such a large turnout in the march to the Capitol. They had discussions earlier in the week about the possibility of some in the group going to face the anti-Sharia protesters, and forming a “wall of sound” to drown out those they perceive as anti-Muslim.
However, most of the rally walked several blocks to show unity.
March Against Sharia supporters said they are for human rights, and some accused the counter-protesters of being pro-Sharia and wanting cruel actions to take place in the United States.
Ahmad said that is far from the truth, and that the counter protest is about human rights and the entire human race.
“Theirs is a march for only certain people’s rights. Theirs is not a march for everyone,” Ahmad said.
“They’re not out here to protect everybody. It is a mostly white group and it’s only about protecting white people against a supposed threat from us. There’s no threat here, and we are actually fighting for our rights to live here safely and in (the) community,” Ahmad added.
A large law enforcement contingent including Raleigh Police, Capitol Police, and North Carolina State Troopers kept the opposing sides apart, and removed a couple members of the counter protest while moving the larger crowd across the street.