HARRISBURG - Highlighting what they say is a national increase in anti-Muslim bias, triggered in part by the rhetoric of some Republican presidential candidates, about 50 amateur lobbyists affiliated with the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations converged at the state capitol to pitch lawmakers on a range of social issues.
Armed with a talking-points memo and posters emblazoned with "I am a proud American Muslim" and "Islamophobia = Racism," the members of the advocacy group fanned out for office visits with legislators and their staffs.
Some of the men wore beards and knitted skullcaps. Some of the women wore hijabs. They spoke about anti-Arab bigotry, the Syrian refugee crisis, the movement to have two major Muslim fast days recognized as school holidays in Philadelphia, three state Senate bills that would affect the price of in-state college tuition, eligibility for driver's licenses, and employment opportunities for authorized and undocumented immigrants.
Three- and four-person teams visited the offices of Philadelphia-area lawmakers Louise Bishop, Lawrence Farnese Jr., Dominic Pileggi, Vincent Hughes, and others.
The group that visited Rep. Kevin Schreiber (D., York) included Abdallah Abououf, a pharmacy technician, of Hummelstown; his wife, Mona Elkony; and their infant son, Yusuf.
"Three months old and already a lobbyist?" Schreiber teased, drawing a laugh.
Schreiber turned serious when he noted that candid discussions with American Muslims exercising their democratic rights need to be part of any dialogue about a better society.
Jacob Bender, the first Jewish director of a CAIR affiliate, said the event, which was billed as "Muslim Capitol Day," was designed to bring together a diverse coalition that included a rabbi, an imam, an ordained minister, civil rights organization leaders, and lawmakers to proclaim, "We will no longer allow the Muslim community and Islam to be stereotyped, marginalized, and vilified."
Rabiya Khan, an activist from York, cited two instances of recent Republican candidate rhetoric that she said fanned the flames of bias: Donald Trump's failure to correct the record when a person at a town-hall meeting prefaced a pejorative question about President Obama with the false statement that Obama is a Muslim; and Ben Carson's statement that he personally could not support a Muslim for president.
Addressing the whole group at the end of the day, Rep. Jordan Harris, a Democrat, whose South and Southwest Philadelphia district has a large and growing Muslim population, said:
"The reality is this: Christian, Muslim, Jew, and Gentile, we all want the same thing. We want safe streets. We want schools that educate our children. . . . There is no place in this commonwealth for hatred of any kind. . . . We must call out racism every chance we get. If any of us are silent when we hear the jokes, when we see the legislation, we are all guilty. . . . Dr. King once said, 'Our day begins to end when we begin to become silent on the things that matter.' "