FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., and other elected officials expressed solidarity with the region's Muslim population following an appearance at a northern Virginia mosque Friday.
Beyer was joined by District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and state officials at prayer services at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church.
Last month, Fairfax County authorities charged a man with leaving a fake bomb at the mosque. Dar al-Hijrah, one of the region's largest mosques, has been in the spotlight ever 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.
Beyer said he wanted to counter a wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric that has taken hold in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks.
"We don't all have the Donald Trump version of Muslims in America," Beyer told mosquegoers.
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."
Inside the mosque, Imam Shaker Elsayed delivered a message to his flock, to the gathered politicians and to the media.
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?'"