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Washington County woman attends State of the Union

Salma Ahmad is president of Islamic Society of Greater Portland, based in Beaverton, and serves on board for Tigard's Muslim Educational Trust

AhmadA Washington County woman found herself in Washington, D.C., this week to listen to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday.

Josefina Salma Ahmad, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Portland, attended the speech as a guest of Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici.

Ahmad, who lives in Cedar Mill, serves on the board of directors for Tigard’s Muslim Educational Trust, on Scholls Ferry Road.

Bonamici said bringing Ahmad as her guest honors Ahmad’s community-building work and was a deliberate effort to counter some of the negative rhetoric some politicians and presidential candidates have used, which she said unfairly ties Muslims to the threat of terrorism.

“She’s very good at building bridges,” Bonamici said. “With all the divisiveness in the country right now, we need more bridge-builders.”

It’s a message that several of Bonamici’s fellow members of Congress also sent. Bonamici and Ahmad participated with a group of like-minded lawmakers and Muslim American guests at a press conference held before Obama’s speech.

Ahmad has served as president of the Islamic Society of Greater Portland. The Beaverton-based group is the oldest official Muslim organization in Oregon and works to promote understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Ahmad moved to the United States from The Philippines in 1967.

“Since I came to this country 49 years ago, the United States — my adopted country — has given me everything a human being aspires for,” Ahmad said before leaving for Washington, D.C. “Thank you America for adopting me and providing every American protection and assurance of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness and, may I add, peace. It is an honor to be invited to attend the State of the Union with Congresswoman Bonamici. Never in my dreams did I think I would have the chance to hear directly from President Obama.”

Bonamici, a Democrat representing Oregon’s 1st Congressional District, said she was “honored to have Salma as my guest because of her exemplary work to promote understanding of the Muslim faith in Oregon, and her many contributions as a Muslim American to the broader community.”

Bonamici and Ahmad were among hundreds of attendees at the recent grand opening celebration of Muslim Educational Trust’s new headquarters and community center last month.

“This is a community where we believe in freedom of religion,” Bonamici said this week.

Following the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Bonamici and others spoke against the proposal during the Muslim Educational Trust’s grand opening.

Bonamici said she hopes that Ahmad’s presence at the State of the Union sent a message that Oregonians will stand together.

“Freedom of religion is one of the fundamental principles of our great country,” Bonamici said. “It has been disturbing to see offensive, rhetoric-fuel hatred and divisiveness around Oregon and the nation. Equally disturbing are the reports of violence against Muslim Americans and their places of worship.”

Ahmad was awarded the Community Leadership Award by the Portland Division of the FBI in 2009 for her work to strengthen relations between law enforcement and the Muslim community.

Ahmad also serves on the board of the Human Rights Council of Washington County and the advisory board of the World Affairs Council of Oregon.

Reporters Geoff Pursinger and Eric Apalategui contributed to this story.