More than a thousand people formed a human barricade around the perimeter of the South Steps of the Capitol Tuesday in a show of solidarity on Texas Muslim Capitol Day.
The crowd of supporters intended to preempt Islamophobic protesters who might attempt to seize the event like in 2015. But only one anti-Muslim protester was apparently at the rally, and his shouts were largely drowned out.
“Today was the most beautiful one,” said Sarwat Husain, the founding president of the San Antonio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). She has been attending Texas Muslim Capitol Day since 2003. “I was crying. I was standing there, and I was just crying. I mean, even the national anthem. It hit me so hard. It was so beautiful.”
At one point, the crowd joined Austin City Council Member Greg Casar in yelling “No ban, no wall!”
Historically, Texas Muslim Capitol Day provides an opportunity for Muslim communities from around Texas to visit with lawmakers and voice their opinions on legislative issues.
Husain said her biggest issues were increasing funding for education and pushing back against the anti-Muslim climate engendered by Donald Trump’s rhetoric and executive order banning immigrants from seven primarily Muslim countries.
The last couple of weeks have been trying for Muslims.
Earlier this month, freshman state Representative Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, sent out a poll asking Muslim respondents whether they denounce Sharia law, consider the “Muslim Brotherhood” as a terrorist organization and pledge not to harm former Muslims.
Biedermann drew comparisons to former state Representative Molly White, who on Texas Muslim Capitol Day in 2015 asked Muslims to “renounce Islamic terrorist groups” and “pledge allegiance to America and our laws…”
Biedermann couldn’t be reached for comment, but his staff handed out a flier to people visiting his office that read, “Our liberties and our borders must both remain secure. I am against any discrimination based upon religion, race or gender. Civil rights should be protected for all citizens of the United States. A secure border is not just beneficial, but necessary for both citizens and immigrants of a thriving republic.”
Elaine Golden, a San Antonio resident who is originally from Fredericksburg and whose family has lived there for four generations, said she was offended by Biedermann’s actions.
“Islam is my religion. It has nothing to do with anything except peace,” Golden said. “As far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t stand for my father, who has a residence there, my aunts and uncles who were born there, me, who was born there. And I want him to quit listening to the far right groups and listen to what’s right for the people who follow the Constitution, in both the state and the United States.”
Following the announcement of Trump’s executive order, the Islamic Center of Victoria, which was also recently burglarized, was destroyed in a fire, which prompted more than 20,000 people to donate $1 million through an online fundraising page to help rebuild the mosque. Earlier this month, the partly constructed Islamic Center of Lake Travis was also destroyed in a fire. Investigators are still looking into the causes.
Many participants said they were thankful to Biedermann, and even Trump, for bringing them closer together and drawing out more people in support.
“I thank them a million times. You want to do it again? Do it,” said Husain. “Because at the same time, this is a learning moment for them to understand what people want.”