Protesters squared off at the main entrance of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati Saturday in a local version of similar anti-Islamic demonstrations across the nation.
Those opposing Islam and its Shariah law in Butler County’s West Chester Twp. were countered by a group of self-described anti-fascists who covered their faces with bandannas.
Both sides carried signs, shouted at one another and occasionally tried to block the opposition’s movement around the 8092 Plantation Drive entrance to the Islamic center.
Local police officers closely controlled the demonstrators and issued a few warnings but there were no arrests.
SPECIAL PROJECT: Bridging the Divide: Islamic Center continues community outreach efforts
The demonstrations coincided with a regularly scheduled open house at the center, whose officials said the anti-Islam demonstration was a first for one of Ohio’s largest Islamic centers.
Anti-Islamic protester Jeremiah York of West Chester Twp. described himself as a “Christ-fearing patriot” as he marched back and forth near the entrance of the center’s grounds.
“Shariah law prohibits things like freedom of religion, freedom of speech – very barbaric practices and that’s why I’m here, to oppose those things,” said York.
MORE: Anti-Shariah rallies planned across U.S. worry Muslim leaders
York looked across the street at the giant banner held by protesters opposing him and others. Although they tried to shout him down at times from disparaging Islam and Shariah law, he welcomed the rift of opinions.
“I’m glad they’re here. They are exercising their right to freedom of speech and as long as they don’t get violent it’s fine,” he said.
Marches against Islamic law were planned Saturday in more than two dozen cities across the United States, but scholars and others say the protesters are stoking unfounded fears and promoting a distorted and prejudiced view of the religion.
The group organizing the rallies, ACT for America, claims Shariah “is incompatible with Western democracy and the freedoms it affords.”
But most Muslims don’t want to replace U.S. law with Islamic law, known as Shariah, and only “radical extremist groups” would call for that, said Liyakat Takim, a professor of Islamic studies at McMaster University in the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario.
A self-described anti-fascist protester – wearing a bandanna covering his face – was identified by others on his side as their spokesman but he would only identify himself as “Goldman.”
He said “we’re here because ACT for America planned an anti-Shariah law rally and it is a very veiled attempt at an anti-Muslim rally and we’re here to oppose hate and bigotry in our community. We don’t think these fascists should be able to come out in these peaceful communities and very nice communities and cause hatred and support hate speech.”
Inayat Malik, board member of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, said the protest against his religion is the first of its kind since the center, which is highly visible off Interstate 75, opened in 1995.
“People are exercising their First Amendment right, even though it’s not pleasant in the slogans they are shouting or the signs they are carrying. But we respect their right and we have a right to disagree with what they are doing,” said Malik, a former board president of the center.
Despite the acrimony directed toward the center, Malik pointed to a table of bottled water and snacks officials had positioned at the main entrance with a sign inviting everyone – regardless of their beliefs – to partake.
“When somebody shows hate or bigotry our religion teaches us to repel it with something good,” he said.
This article contains additional reporting from the Associated Press.