The week following Sept. 11, 2001, was a sad and tense time for us at the Portland Rizwan Mosque. Not only had we experienced the same shock and horror from the attacks as any other American, but we also had the fear of retaliatory attacks that might occur at our mosque or against community members.
The initial response wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared. We received a few hate calls, but felt that was to be expected (but not justified) given the situation. We had tried to keep quiet about it as we weren't looking for attention. However, someone in the media had caught wind of the calls and reported it. What happened after this was what really made me understand what Portland was all about.
The phone started ringing off the hook with literally hundreds of voicemails expressing sympathy and support from Portlanders. We tried to return each of those calls to offer thanks, and it took weeks. The following Friday I came to the mosque for the weekly prayer service, and to my surprise, the entire front of the mosque was lined with flowers from well-wishers. I understood then that Portlanders do not tolerate hate and bigotry.
The horrific attack on May 26 that resulted in the death of two people and injuries for another as they tried to protect two young women from a man's racist tirade is shocking. In today's divisive political climate, we've seen a dramatic increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, each of which is both saddening as a human being and concerning as a Muslim. But this one feels different as it hits so close to home.
My heart pours out to the heroes, Rick Best and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, who sacrificed their lives, and Micah Fletcher, who suffered injuries standing up to this hate. I am heartbroken for their families and loved ones who are dealing with this tragic loss. I am heartbroken for the young women who were victims of the verbal assault and then witnessed the brutal murder of those who stood up to protect them. My daughter is a young woman, and I can only imagine how traumatic this is for them. They are all in my thoughts and prayers.
While this incident is an exception, I believe it underscores the need for dialogue. For the 30 years that the Portland Rizwan Mosque has been serving the community, its doors have always been open for those who want to come to talk. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community nationwide has been reaching out to Americans to have conversations through the Coffee, Cake and True Islam initiative (www.trueislam.com). We believe that dialogue and just getting to know one another is the best way to conquer fear and hatred. We invite you to come and join us or any mosque in the area.
Friday's incident came as a shock to me because this is not the Portland that I know and love. I called Portland home for nearly 40 years, and I know that with dialogue and education we can emerge stronger.
Since I chose Islam as my faith more than 25 years ago, I never experienced this level of hatred and always felt safe and secure as a Muslim in Portland. This is because I know the real Portland is that community which stands up for its people just as they did for the Muslim community following the 9/11 tragedy.
Richard "Rasheed" Reno is a former Portland resident who lives in Puyallup, Washington, where he works as an IT professional. He serves as a deputy spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA. Reach him on Twitter: @rasheedreno.