As I sat with Hisham Farajallah in the Idris Mosque in North Seattle, a man walked over, handed him something, and said, “Here’s more.” They were postcards, with messages like “Thank you for being here…STAY STRONG,” and “We are so happy to have you as our neighbors.” The mosque has seen a surge of messages like these in recent weeks.
If mayor Ed Murray were to *hypothetically* deliver his state of the city speech at the mosque later this month, it would make Farajallah, the mosque’s secretary of the board of trustees, even prouder of Seattle.
“That would show the support we have at all levels,” he says. “From our kids all the way up to our leaders. Because we are all in this together.”
Born in Hebron, in the West Bank, Farajallah came to the U.S. in 1978 and got his master’s in mechanical engineering at Washington State University. He’s been volunteering at the mosque since the ‘90s. While Trump touts the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” and issues travel bans targeting Muslims, Farajallah continues to promote the same message he’s delivered to the residents of Seattle for the last 20 years: You are all welcome here.
It’s one of the things that is most important to Farajallah—getting the word out that no matter who you are or what your faith is, the mosque is yours too. It has had an open-door policy for decades; anyone can attend a service or stop by one of the many community events they hold. To him, that is the best way to combat negative assumptions about what it means to be Muslim.
“We reach out so that people can be educated,” he says. “I don’t want you to support me based on emotion. I want you to make that decision based on knowledge. When you see bigotry based on ignorance, you counter that with knowledge.”
The current political climate only makes him more determined to bridge gaps, but the fear it creates is painful at times. He knows of people in the community who canceled travel plans for fear of being unable to return, and a six-year-old at the mosque recently asked him “Where am I going to go?” The kid thought someone might kick him out of the country.
“These things really touch you, and they just make you want to work harder,” he says. “I knew it was coming. I took the election slogans seriously. But I did not expect it this fast.”
So he keeps working to answer one (multiple-part) question:
“What can we do to make bonds stronger between people? To have people love each other more, know each other more, respect each other more?”
His answer is to form a community of many different types of people. He thinks those who’ve never visited the mosque would be surprised to see how diverse it truly is—conservatives, progressives, people who root for opposing sports teams, people from Russia, Africa, the Middle East, born-and-raised Seattleites, etc. Sunday afternoon, he was meeting with two women—a rabbi and a priest—to plan an interfaith event.
“The whole U.S. is inside here,” he says. “This is our city, our state, our country, and we have to build it together for our children. If we fail, they are the ones that will bring these barriers of fear down and learn to accept each other with their differences.”
When I left, a girls’ youth group had started. They circled up on the floor and discussed what it meant to be Muslim, how to respond to Islamophobia, and where to get reliable news (good on them). Outside, just in the hour I was there, a new row of flowers had been added to the chain-link fence in front, edging a row of colorful signs of community support.
When people ask Farajallah how to help, he says:
“I don’t know. First come visit, then we’ll go from there.”
Updated February 24, 2017. A previous version of this article misspelled of Idris Mosque as Idriss.