D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Northern Virginia congressman Don Beyer, along with other elected officials, expressed solidarity with Muslims in the D.C. area following an appearance on Friday at a Northern Virginia mosque.
Holmes Norton and Beyer, both Democrats, were joined by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and state officials for Friday services at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque off Leesburg Pike in Falls Church, Virginia.
Beyer said he organized the gathering to help counter a wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric that has taken hold in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks. He also urged House members across the country to attend mosque services to support U.S. Muslims.
"We don't all have the Donald Trump version of Muslims in America," Beyer told mosquegoers.
Last month, Fairfax County authorities charged a 27-year-old man with leaving a fake bomb at the mosque. According to the mosque's outreach director, Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, an intruder tried to enter the iron fence around the mosque about 2 a.m. Thursday and threw two smoke bombs and a Molotov cocktail toward the building. Members of the mosque who live in the neighborhood saw him, confronted him and he left, Abdul-Malik said.
Officials say the man, Chester H. Gore, caused an estimated $200 damage to a gate at the mosque. He was charged with using the device, possession and use of illegal fireworks, entering the property of another for the purpose of causing damage based on religious conviction, and destruction of property.
Norton, who is African-American, said she understands how the Muslim community can be rattled by Islamophobic comments and actions.
"I know what it means to be a few among the many," she said. "I come not in sympathy. I come today in solidarity."
Dar al-Hijrah, one of the region's largest mosques, has been in the spotlight since the Sept. 11 attacks. Its imam at the time, Anwar al-Awlaki, later left the country and became a leader in al-Qaeda before being killed in a drone strike.
Inside the mosque on Friday, Imam Shaker Elsayed delivered a message to the group.
To his members, he urged them to carefully monitor their children's use of the Internet to ensure they are not swayed by radical online propaganda.
"Leave not your children to be misled," he said.
He urged the politicians to counsel their colleagues to curb the "high, heated rhetoric" and said politicians who urge the bombing of Mecca "should be disciplined."
"The rhetoric has led some people to go blind," he said, and view all Muslims as the enemy.
And he urged reporters to be careful in their reporting and avoid sensationalism or reporting that divides people into enemy camps.
"World wars happen because of words. We need not be instigators of World War III," he said.
Another imam at Dar al-Hijrah, Johari Abdul-Malik, told reporters that people's fear of the Muslim community can be overcome if the two communities engage each other, as occurred Friday.
"The idea is for Muslims to reach out to their neighbors," he said, and vice versa, and not just at the mosque. "Everyone loves kebab. Go to your local kebab house, sit down with someone and ask, 'What is Islam?'"