This story has been updated since its original publication to reflect the events of the day and incorporate more context and sources.
Hundreds of supporters of the Muslim community formed a wall by linking arms at the steps of the state Capitol on
Many who linked arms wore shirts that read, “I stand with my Muslim neighbors,” or held up signs with calls for unity.
Texas Muslim Capitol Day, a biennial event organized by the Council on American Islamic Relations since 2003, provides a chance for Muslim communities throughout the state to learn about how to be active in the political process.
At the demonstration Sarwat Husain, president of CAIR San Antonio, spoke inside the wall to a crowd made up of many Muslim students and families. She took the podium surrounded by legislators to stress the importance of togetherness and civic engagement.
“Civic engagement ... it is not just a privilege, it is God-given privilege and it’s also a blessing,” Husain said. “We are supposed to work with our leaders, to make it easy for them. If they have a problem understanding us, it is our duty to reach out to them. The ones that do not want us here, please listen to this. We are here to meet you as well. Give us a chance to come and talk to you.”
During last sessions’ Texas Muslim Capitol Day, participants were met by protesters who repeatedly tried to interrupt the event. Organizers for CAIR said the purpose of the solidarity wall was to keep that from happening again.
Joshua Frey, an organizer with Muslim Solidarity ATX, said CAIR contacted his organization after receiving threats of potential protests. The protesters they were worried about, numbering four at most, went practically unnoticed outside the wall of support.
“We started to organize a few weeks ago, hoping to get at least 50 to 80 people out here to form a wall around to symbolically show the community that we have their backs,” Frey said. “We’re not here to politicize the event. We aren’t an anti-Trump demonstration. People came from across party lines just to show that we’re here for this community.”
Biochemistry senior Sidrah Shah said her dad is a volunteer with CAIR and that she worked with him to help plan the event.
“I just really want to get more involved in my local government and have my voice heard and this is an amazing way to do it,” Shah said. “It’s so beautiful to see so many people out here to support Muslims especially given the current political climate. A lot of us feel kind of let down at times by our local government but seeing the overwhelming support that we have is so heartening.”
This year’s event comes just days after President Trump issued an executive order barring travel from seven countries with a majority-Muslim population and temporarily blocking refugees from entering the country.
Annum Hanafi, a 17-year Austin resident and mother, said it was important for her to come to this year’s event because of all of the anti-Muslim rhetoric around the nation.
“When I got here I had to tell myself, ‘don’t cry, but when I walked on to the grounds I just lost it,” Hanafi said. “All I could see was this sea of people standing in solidarity, not just standing to support but standing to protect us, willing to be the barrier between someone that might want to harm us. There really aren’t any words to describe what that’s like. I cried tears of gratitude and sadness that we’re in time where someone says, ‘I’m willing to risk my life for you.’”