This religion has 4,000 members in Harrisonburg

Published: Apr. 21, 2016 at 9:48 PM EDT
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There are about 4,000 Muslims living in the Friendly City. While many say they have been treated very well in Harrisonburg, some say they have felt discrimination before in other places.

Madiha Patel said she's just like most mothers in the Valley: she worries about what's for dinner or if she paid her bills on time. But because she wears a hajab, sometimes she gets looks from folks in town. "They do not say anything, but so much can be said and portrayed just from people-the way they look at you," said Patel.

After living in the Valley six years, she said no one's ever made a disparaging comment to her face, but the looks can still hurt. Patel said: "I feel really uncomfortable and I just want to be like 'what are you looking at?' Like hey you know I don't want to go out of my way and say 'hey I'm okay, you know, don't worry, you know, I'm one of you,' but at the same time it's frustrating that I have to sit here and defend myself."

She's not alone. Bahroz Rasheed came to America from Iraq in 1996 and was living just outside New York on 9/11. He said the day after the attack, a clerk at a grocery store refused to check his mother out from the store and blamed her for what happened. "She expected people to make remarks and look at her and all that, but she didn't think that it would go this far," said Rasheed.

It's easy to understand why Raad Amer would have reservations when he chose to move to the Valley. Amer said, "I was worried at the beginning, you know, would people be really concerned; would I be marked or labeled immediately because of certain things?"

But it appears to be a different story in Harrisonburg. Everyone I spoke with talked about how welcoming the community is. Bahroz Rasheed said, "They seem to be more accepting of people; they seem to be more considerate and more polite."

Rasheed said just a few months ago, a young woman from outside the Muslim community came to Friday prayer and spoke to everyone about how happy she was to have them as a part of the community. "I mean that was very heartwarming; that made us feel a whole lot better because things were getting intense at the time," said Rasheed.

Rasheed said negative media attention during terror attacks like Paris and San Bernardino puts Muslims on the defensive about their religion. "In your head you're like 'oh no here comes another lunatic, in the name of my religion,' claiming to --doing something horrible-- and claiming it to be part of my religion when it's not," said Rasheed.

Amer said: "It's really crazy, people don't think about coming and associating Christianity with the KKK, for example, is something crazy. Yes KKK members were Christians, but does that mean that Christians around the world are all of them KKK? I mean it doesn't make sense!"

As for the rise of Donald Trump and his proposed "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," Rasheed said: "People in America are scared and he feeds on those fears."

But for the thousands who call Harrisonburg home, they're happy the "Friendly City" lives up to it's reputation. "That's the American spirit, like that's how we are," said Patel. "That's what America is all about: we've been accepting --it's been a country that's built by immigrants for immigrants."

One can find out about appearing at the mosque in Harrisonburg as a visitor online: