Organizers for the annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day expected about a thousand to turn out, but at least twice that many gathered on the Capitol steps.
Among them were hundreds of non-Muslim supporters who linked arms to keep a handful of protesters at bay.
Speakers at the rally voiced concerns about US President Donald Trump’s travel ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, and recent fires at mosques in Austin and Victoria.
“Our country was founded on religious freedom and we need to insure it continues to be a country where we can practice our religions without being threatened,” state Rep.VicctoriaNeave, of Dallas told the crowd,
Houston native Hiba Siddiqi urged the crowd to voice their concerns at the ballot box.
“We need more Muslims in senior federal positions, we need more Muslim legislators, more Muslim congressmen and senators, more Muslims running for local offices, more Muslims influencing change,” she said to loud applause.
A few protesters stood at the fringe of the crowd. One man held signs proclaiming, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and “No Sharia.”
Dr. Khaled M. Elsayes, a radiologist and medical professor at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, said he believes the protesters don’t understand the Muslim faith.
“We need to know each other more than that,” he said.
Elsayes attempted to open a dialogue with the man holding the signs by inviting him to lunch, but was told, “You’ve got nothing to say I want to hear.”
After the rally, the crowd fanned out through the Capitol building to lobby legislators. One group met with freshman state Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredricksburg.
Biedermann offended some Muslim leaders two weeks ago by sending out about 400 questionnaires asking Muslims if they support the Muslim Reform movement, which opposes violent radicalism, would pledge for religious freedom, and asked if the Islamic Brotherhood should be declared a terrorist organization.
Biedermann told about a dozen Muslims who met with him Tuesday, “The purpose is not for us to be making determinations about your faith,” he insisted. “We believe in religious freedom, we believe in human rights, we believe in civil rights, we believe in women’s rights. And as long as those are protected, then we’re on the same page and I am grateful that you are here.”
Invited to continue the discussion over dinner, Biedermann was noncommittal.
Texas Muslim Capitol Day is an annual event that’s been held every year since 2003. Based on figures compiled in 2000, an estimated 60,000 Muslims live in the Greater Houston area, supporting more than 40 mosques.