Local Muslims Gather To Discuss Legal Rights, Mental Health

Dec 12, 2016

Many Muslims in Rhode Island are feeling anxious about a Trump presidency, following promises to change immigration and refugee policy and discussions of a possible Muslim registry. In response, Muslim community leaders organized a private workshop Sunday to review the legal rights of citizens, immigrants and refugees.

Representatives of the Providence Police Department, The American Civil Liberties Union and the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations were scheduled to speak at the panel, hosted at a Providence mosque. Recently the same mosque received a letter filled with anti-Islamic rhetoric, one of several letters sent anonymously to mosques around the country.

Organizers said the panel would focus on helping citizens, new immigrants and refugees understand American customs and their civil rights. The panel also planned to address mental health, particularly for children who may be hearing statements about Muslims in the media and may face bullying at school.

Psychologist Dr. Noreen Shafi, one of the speakers at Sunday's workshop,  moved to the United States from Pakistan in 1985, and said she felt welcome until the September 11th terrorist attacks.

“And then ISIS and the Taliban, and everything, the concepts, the media,” said Shafi. “And I think the biggest mistake Muslims made was they were never really effective in advocating for true Muslims.”

Shafi said she’s fielding weekly calls from members of the Muslim community expressing increased fear and anxiety since the election of Donald Trump.

“First we need to develop a confidence in ourselves, and we have to know our rights and we have to stand for ourselves,” said Shafi. “Unless we stand for ourselves nobody else is going to do it for us. We need to learn to advocate for ourselves.”

In response to similar concerns, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has announced the creation of the city's first Muslim advisory board and a hate crime hotline.