Mayor Stewart Extends Hand to Local Muslim Community

Mayor Erin Stewart, Police Chief James Wardwell speak to Islamic Association of Central Connecticut

“We have an open channel with the police chief but the mayor, given her background as a Republican, we thought she’d be siding with the president,” said Omer Abdelgaber, president of the association which prays and has activities at 100 Arch St.

“We are very appreciative that she reached out to us and have invited her to speak to the whole congregation.”

Mayor Erin Stewart and Police Chief James Wardwell met with Abdelgaber and the association’s Imam, the spiritual leader, Ibraham Alsurimi, Monday.

“I think it was sincere,” Wardwell said. “There were a lot of things said that were the basis to build stronger relationships from. There was some honest talk about things local and national.”

Trump contends his executive order barring travelers from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen, all countries that are predominantly Muslim, is a way of protecting the United States from terrorists. The hastily instituted ban caused chaos and protests at airports throughout the country last week with travelers detained, Visas canceled and students and professors who had a legal right to be in the United States suddenly barred from entry, according to the Associated Press. Refuges were also banned from entering the country as part of the order.

A federal judge blocked the ban Friday evening. An appellate court has already turned down the federal government’s plea to immediately lift the stay of the ban. Close to 100 technology companies and a few others issued a brief in opposition of the ban Monday citing concerns for their workforce and the need to pull in intellect from other countries to maintain operations. Lawyers on both sides will vigorously argue the executive order before an appellate court, and most likely the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

As the drama unfolded, Stewart said she was aware of the trepidation that the ban has inspired. “Last week I saw the fear that a lot of legal citizens have that the government is after them and it makes me sad,” Stewart said. “Omer has lived here for 30 years, and I’m turning 30 this year, so, so have I. To hear of their genuine fear over just their existence as Muslim Americans is very sad.”

Stewart had a staff member contact Wardwell who has developed a relationship with the association and who has helped by providing an officer to direct traffic during times when the congregation gathers for prayers. Wardwell arranged the meeting between the Mayor, himself and leaders of the association. “I want to extend a hand and let them know their local government stands with them as citizens and as contributing members of the community,” she said.

The majority of the Muslim community in New Britain that attends prayers and other functions at the association’s center, called the Masjid Altaqwa, are from Yemen and Sudan, Abdelgaber said. They have concerns that family members will not be reunited and he was touched that the mayor took the time to inquire. “For the mayor to come out and she wanted to speak with us at this time, I can’t even describe it,” he said. “We really appreciate what she did.”

The association is hosting an open house for the community on Feb. 17 from 1:30 p.m. until sunset. After sunset the public is invited to attend a lecture on what Islam is about.

Stewart conceded that she doesn’t have the power to overrule the federal government, but she made it clear to the men that she would connect them with Connecticut’s U.S. congressional and senatorial delegation if there was a problem. “At the end of the day, I wanted to invite them in to extend a hand,” said Stewart who has accepted an invitation to speak at the center on Feb. 24. “I wanted them to know they had a friend in the mayor’s office and they aren’t doing anything wrong by practicing their religion.”

This story originally appeared in the New Britain Herald here.