“We can’t close our doors out of fear and be invisible, ” said Zaid Lites who is the Imam at the Islamic Center of Savannah. “We can’t disappear and hide and let extremists and terrorists speak in our name.”
We are talking at the Islamic Center after nearly two weeks of news coverage on the terror attack in San Bernadino and what many American Muslims feel is backlash in terms of renewed fears and bigotry. “They’re worried and anxious of how people look at them and consider them, so in that sense it is a troubling time,” he told us.
On Trump’s comments that Muslims should be temporarily banned from entering the country he said “people have to speak out against that rhetoric because it just causes more contention and disunity.”
Lites says he understands the fear and concern about ISIS. He says Muslims are also afraid. “Around the world, the majority of people being killed in terror attacks are Muslims,” he told me. “But terror and dread have nothing to do with Islam.”
He says his religion is about worship and peace and the center is open to the community. Yet some in the community don’t seem t be open to them. There was an incident last Friday. while the center is open to the community, some in the community don’t seem to be open to them after an incident last Friday.
“There was a small incident someone just drove by and yelled something and kept going,” Lites said. “No big thing. But I’m sure you’re aware of the history of this Islamic Center, that in 2003 the center was center was burned down in an arson fire. So we hope that things will never get that bad again.”
The Center has been rebuilt just as it seems Muslims need to keep building a bridge to the community. “We want people to come, ask questions If they’re suspicious they can come and Muslims in person,” Lites said.
He also told us that in the Savannah area there are about 500 Muslim families. “As individual members of the community every now and then we do tend to face some sort of harassment or negative comments or insults,” Lites says. “We just want to continue on with our lives, we don’t want to let that stop us doing what we do. So we’re patient and try to teach people the true teachings of Islam.”