“Islam is Peace,” the signs read as about 100 Muslims and supporters from across the Antelope Valley offered that message to their fellow residents in a street-corner rally Friday evening.
Drivers answered by honking their horns and returning peace signs. Two sheriff’s squad cars idled in the old K-Mart parking lot for security, but deputies said no problems were reported.
Asema Sultan immigrated to the United States from Pakistan 24 years ago and has lived in Palmdale for 15 years.
The sign she carried said: “Not in our name.”
“Killing any person is not right,” she said. “Jihad is an inner struggle, not killing people.”
Her concept of jihad is not often heard among those who purport to carry out holy war in the name of Islam.
Jihad, Sultan explained, should be thought of as “restraining desires, resisting from evil.”
“Good doesn’t come easily,” she said. “You have to sacrifice to do good.”
As she spoke, a young white man drove by in a beat-up black car, honking his horn and waving his middle finger at the gathered Muslims.
Sultan shrugs it off.
“There are all kinds of people,” she said. “They just need more education, that’s all.
“We don’t blame them. They will learn one day.”
Kamal al-Khatib, leader of the American Islamic Institute of the Antelope Valley, helped organize the event.
“This is the whole community coming together,” he said.
Friday’s rally came as participants were just learning of several car bombings in an Egyptian resort.
At least 49 people died in three car bombings early today at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik.
“The whole world’s on fire right now,” al-Khatib said. “If the world doesn’t take care of these problems, we’re going to have the jungle.”
Medhat Elharty, an Egyptian who now lives in Palmdale, was at the resort just a few weeks ago.
“It’s a beautiful town,” he said. “Not many Egyptian people go there because the cost is very high.”
The bombings rattled Elharty.
“It’s really bad,” he said. “This is not the Muslim way.”
The rally was informal. There were no grand speeches or calls to action. Members of the Muslim community and supporters stood on the corner of 10th Street West and Rancho Vista Boulevard (Avenue P) waiving peace signs and American flags, showing that they were part of the community.
Abdul-Wahab Omeira, a chaplain at California State Prison Los Angeles County in Lancaster and the main event organizer, told al-Khatib there would be no grandstanding at the event.
“We don’t need speeches,” he said, wearing a pink sign across his chest that said, “We love the UK.”
“Action speaks louder than words,” he told al-Khatib.
Several participants gathered briefly around Omeira, who paraphrased a simple passage from the Koran to denounce terrorism:
“If you kill one person, unjustly, you kill all humanity. If you save one person, you save all humanity.”
It was a saying oft-\en repeated by many at the event.
A handful of on-Muslim residents came out to support their neighbors.
Don Gockel, a Realtor from Palmdale, brought water for the demonstrators and handed out American flags with his business card attached.
“I don’t think for a moment that all Muslims are terrorists. We have a well-established Muslim community in the Antelope Valley that doesn’t need to be associated with the wrong group,” he said.
Caroline Scratch of Lake Hughes said a Palestinian man she worked with for 30 years helped her understand Muslims and the Middle East. That understanding, she said, brought her to Friday’s rally.
“Every age has to fight evil in its own way,” she said. “This is their way. They’re willing to say (terrorism) is evil, and that’s what we need to hear.”
Ron Constable of Palmdale added, “When some folks are doing something right, it’s right to support ’em.”
Gini Armstrong, also of Palmdale, was impressed by the showing.
“When Muslims make the point that terrorism doesn’t represent them, and are willing to come out here,” she said, “they’re taking back their faith.”
Around 8 p.m., a man wearing an Army shirt walked through the rally and offered a firm handshake to al-Khatib.
“Last time I saw this was outside of Baghdad,” said the man, who identified himself only as an Army corporal from Palmdale. He served a tour of duty in Iraq that ended in January 2004.
“Right now, people are biased against them,” he said of the rallying Muslims. “I wish I would see more of something along this line.”
He added, “Next to supporting the troops, this is equally good.”