Muslims in San Bernardino say they’re feeling the mass shooting that left 14 dead in two different ways. First and foremost they’re mourning, just like their neighbors of every race and religion in the region known to locals as the Inland Empire. The second feeling is anticipation, because they fear a backlash.
“We are doubly pained,” said Amjad Mahmood Khan, the national director of public affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, as he stood vigil at the Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino, the largest mosque in San Bernardino County, just one night after the mass shooting.
In the last few years the number of hate crimes in the U.S. has gone down—except for crimes against Muslims. Poll after poll shows public opinion of Arabs and Muslims is actually getting worse. Muslims in the San Bernardino County are especially aware of these statistics. Locals say the area, which emcompasses the counties of San Bernardino and Riverside, is a hotbed for hate groups.
“We’re mindful of communities that harbor hate, and we just need to set a clear image at this mosque because it’s been a been a beacon for peace for 30 years,” Khan said.
The Ahmadiyya are a Muslim minority. Khan said there are about 1,000 congregants at the Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino, a city that is part of the San Bernardino county.
San Bernardino Police officials say Syed Rizwan Farook, a 28-year-old U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, 27, a Pakistani national, were behind Wednesday’s shooting. Farook’s coworkers described him as a devout Muslim, according to reports published by the L.A. Times. Intelligence sources have not confirmed whether terrorism was the motive or if Farook and his wife were radicalized by Islamist extremists.
Leaders at the mosque in Chino condemned the mass shooting and said Farook was not a member of their congregation.
Khan described Wednesday’s mass shooting as “a 9/11 moment for the American Muslim community in Southern California.”
“To have two Millennials kill and injure over 30 people is so grotesque. we’ve never seen anything like it in over 30 years of being here,” said Khan.
What the Island Empire has seen in the last 30 years is hatred towards immigrant groups and the Muslim community.
California has the most active hate groups in the nation, according to the Southern Poverty Center. And many of them are in the Inland Empire region, where experts say shifting demographics have bred fertile grounds for racial conflict. All of the documented hate crimes in the county since 2011 have been race-based attacks, according to the San Bernardino Police Department.
“There is a significant concentration of hate groups in the Inland Empire, unlike anywhere else in the nation,” Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the California State University in San Bernardino, told the LA Times in 2010.
Five years ago when New York City officials were debating whether to allow a mosque to be built near the site of the 2001 September 11th attacks, the Inland Empire was having its own debate over a proposed mosque to be built in the Temecula Valley.
The planned Islamic Center of Temecula Valley had met all the construction conditions required by the city, but some locals still protested. A Riverside County political group affiliated with the Tea Party organized a protest that encouraged demonstrators bring their dogs to the mosque, in an effort to offend many Muslims who believe the saliva of dogs can is impure and can invalidate some Islamic rituals.
More recently in neighboring Murrieta a protest organized by Tea Party groups blocked buses carrying a reported 150 unaccompanied minor immigrants. A number of Tea Party groups have also protested against San Bernardino accepting Syrian refugees.
Khan said he hopes to engage the larger community and grow acceptance by inviting non-Muslims to his mosque.
“Our doors are open for non-Muslims,” Khan said.
“There’s no need to be fearful of individuals who are working hard to engage their community,” Khan said.