Students show support for Muslims in Portland

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PORTLAND — As noontime prayers at the Maine Muslim Community Center ended last Friday, releasing a wave of worshipers onto Anderson Street, a small group of students was just arriving with a gift for the center.

Before heading inside, the group was taken on a brief tour of the exterior of the building at 118 Andersen St.

“Here it said ‘Go home,'” center Secretary Suleyman Barre said, before bringing the group around to the front. “Here it said, ‘Osama today, tomorrow Islam.'”

Barre was showing the students where vandals had defaced the center after President Obama’s announcement that the United States had killed Osama bin Laden, the former leader of the al Qaeda terrorist group.

Ethan Strimling, the LearningWorks chief executive, noted that the students, who call themselves the Graffiti Busters, quickly removed the graffiti soon after it was reported.

“They did a great job,” Barre said.

But Eric Moynihan, a Jobs For Maine Graduates teacher at LearningWorks, said simply removing the graffiti was not enough for students, who were upset about the act of vandalism.

So, Monynihan said the students came up with the idea to draft a resolution of support for the entire Muslim community and present it to the community center.

“It was part of the injustice of it all,” he said.

Inside the sparsely furnished center, student Jason Lemay read the declaration of support to several community center members.

“If any of the undersigned are present during any anti-Islamic rhetoric, we will stand up for the Islamic community,” the 23-year-old said.

Mohammed Dini, a member of the center, said he would share the resolve with other members and put it up on the wall.

Dini said many Muslims in the area believe that the hate crime was an isolated incident and that most people in the Portland community are welcoming.

“We are not moving anywhere,” Dini said. “We are home. This is our home. Working together, we will make our community strong.”

The declaration was one of two projects in recent days by students at LearningWorks, a group that provides educational opportunity to at-risk youth, immigrants and low-income people.

On Monday a group of students volunteered to stock shelves and do other odd jobs down at the Wayside Warehouse. The students also presented the center a $1,000 donation.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

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LearningWorks student Jason Lemay presents a declaration of support to Mohammed Dini, left, and Suleyman Barre, both of whom are members of the Maine Muslim Community Center which was vandalized on May 2.