GERMANTOWN – Montgomery County officials signed a solidarity proclamation to show its support for the county’s Muslim population Thursday afternoon during a signing ceremony at the Islamic Society of Germantown.
“You are respected and in fact, you are valued,” County Executive Ike Leggett said at the ceremony after the end of Ramadan.
Leggett and County Council President Nancy Floreen (D), stated in the proclamation, “We will not tolerate the acts of hatred against Muslims. We encourage all residents to join us in solidarity to proclaim that every ethnicity, race, and religion are valued and respected in Montgomery County.”
Floreen told the audience of about 50 people the county will not tolerate xenophobia seen on the national level.
Officials from the county, school district, police department and the state Department of Health and Human Services have been meeting with members of the Muslim community here since December 2015 to establish ways to limit bullying and intolerance toward the Muslims who live and work in the county.
They came up with three recommendations. The first calls for the county schools to “create a safe learning environment.”
As part of the seven-month long process, 110 students who attend Islamic Sunday schools run by the Islamic Center of Maryland and the Haneefiya Learning Center were surveyed on their school day experiences.
The survey’s results showed that one in five Muslim students felt intimated, harassed, humiliated, bullied or were emotionally and physically abused by classmates because they are Muslims.
Ten percent of the students surveyed said they believed a teacher or administrator treated them unfairly simply because they were Muslim, and eight percent felt that classmates or teachers treated them differently when they wore Islamic religious symbols, including the hijab.
One person complained in the survey there was no place in school to report concerns and Muslims felt isolated or excluded from some social situations.
Maria Navarro, chief academic officer for Montgomery County Public Schools, said the school system “is committed to a culture of respect.”
Besides working to eliminate bullying, the schools also will strive to teach tolerance, she said.
The officials also called for more programming and resources to address workplace and school bullying against Muslims and programming to teach young people resilience and how to recognize that their fellow students were being bullied.
Police Commander David Gillespie, of District 6 which covers the Germantown area, said the police will do all it can to make residents feel safe.
However, he said, “we cannot be effective” without forming good relations within the Muslim community.
“We are in this together. We need you. You’re our first line of eyes and ears,” added Captain Marc Yamada, director of community outreach for the police, a recently created position in the department.
Hate crimes have increased in the county. As of this month, there was one more reported hate crime than there was in all of 2015, Gillespie said.
Imam Ammar Najar of the Islamic Society of Germantown said the long term goal is “to build bridges and to build communities.”
Following the solidarity event, Najar said that while his congregation of almost 400 families has not experienced much hostility, his members are often tense, especially following a terrorist attack anywhere in the world.
“You feel like you are going to be looked at” negatively, he said. “You are uncertain of what the impression will be of me. That is always the key.”
There are 15 mosques and Muslim centers in Montgomery County.