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San Antonio Muslim Community Strives To Build Bridges Following Orlando Attack

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Members of San Antonio's Raindrop Turkish House begin evening prayer.

The Muslim community in San Antonio is saying the attack by Omar Mateen in Orlando does not represent their faith.  Members of the Raindrop Turkish House on Vance Jackson talked about the impact an extremist attack has on the Muslim community.

The Raindrop Turkish House is both a mosque and community center.  It’s the holy month of Ramadan, a 29 day period when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Every day during Ramadan an iftar is served here.  That’s the meal eaten after the sunset. The past two days have included prayers for the 49 people killed in Orlando.

Fatma Orsla, a volunteer says, “Since it’s Ramadan right now, we come together every day, it’s just like a bible study. We study Koran, at that time we prayed for the victims and we prayed for not very negative effects of this to all human kind.”

The house offers time to communities to learn about Islamic culture at each Iftar. At this service it’s instructors and staff of the University of the Incarnate Word. Mustafa Safak is the Imam here. “People first hand get the opportunity to meet someone who is different, who believes different, maybe who lives different,” he says.

Before committing Sunday’s terror attack the shooter pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, a declaration that can often strengthen fear of Muslim people.  Imam Safak says he wonders how people who commit these acts can call themselves Muslims in the first place. He says a verse in the Koran says killing one person is like killing all of humanity.

The statement says if you kill one innocent person like this you are doomed to go to Hell. It is very serious.

“The statement says if you kill one innocent person like this you are doomed to go to Hell. It is very serious. So I seriously do not understand  how could someone do such a thing except that he has some deep psychological or mental issues.”

Seyfullah Yavuz is a U.S. resident from Turkey and owns a company in San Antonio that sells tools. He says because of attacks like this Muslims are given a bad name.

“I feel kind of like sad, because Muslim means violence in the world unfortunately. So who did this? Muslims did this. Some stupid, unfortunately, some stupid Muslim. First of all, a Muslim cannot be a terrorist, and a terrorist cannot be a Muslim according to the Koran, but you never know what people act,” he says.

Yavuz says after the Paris attacks, one of his clients began asking how he felt.

“He looked at me, my customer, looked at me and he said ‘Seyfullah, you make me confused, we have a good relationship, you’re selling me tools, I buy from you, what do you think about Paris attack?'”

He looked back and replied. “Do you really think I can really support those kinds of violent groups of people? He said, ‘Of course not. But Seyfullah, you’re my first Muslim friend and going to be my last Muslim friend in my life, so I’m not going to be Muslim friend anymore. You’re the one we have a good relationship with Muslim.' They don’t want to be a friend with Muslim and that’s horrible.”

Another volunteer Sumerya Tek is a Ph.D student at UTSA. She says when she found out the shooter was Muslim, she began to worry. She says the attitudes of her friends and colleagues have not changed toward her but going about daily life can be different.

“I don’t feel different, but when I go to an H-E-B, I kind of think that ‘are these people scared of me?’ It’s really kind of hurting me. This will again, kind of, increase the Islamophobia again. I’m kind of scared about my kids and everything in our life can change. This is my first reaction, but I’m hopeful  because what we are doing here in terms of building bridges and educating ourselves and also others, it will help hopefully. We are doing little things, but we think it helps.”

It’s building bridges that the Turkish Raindrop House hopes to do. Imam Safak says especially when certain groups are singled out.

“In the past we did have people coming, as far as I know some mosques too, basically offering the support and prayers. So I think as communities in San Antonio we should be doing this.”

He says offering help and support is the best way to reduce tension and begin healing.