As President Donald Trump called Wednesday for tougher immigration rules following a terrorist attack in New York, members of a Meriden mosque said the country should instead focus on unity and understanding.
Members of the Baitul Aman Mosque said the attacker, who struck and killed eight people with a truck, doesn’t represent the true beliefs of Islam, despite the suspect’s reported connections to the Islamic State.
Prior to the start of a morning cabinet meeting, Trump revisited his calls for tougher immigration laws, including a “merit-based” immigration policy. The change would require people to meet certain standards before they can come to the U.S.
He also said he wants to end the diversity visa, a policy that offered a limited number of visas for people coming from countries with few immigrants in the U.S.
The Democratic-proposed program was included in a larger immigration bill signed by President George H.W. Bush.
Trump was among those to criticize the program after reports that the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, entered the U.S. with such a visa. Trump called on Congress to immediately halt the visas, and accused Democrats of blocking Republican efforts in general to strengthen immigration requirements.
Saipov was charged Wednesday, but police say they are looking for additional suspects.
Wajid Ahmed, spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Connecticut, said people “need to come together” in the wake of the incident and added that calls for stricter immigration are adding to divisiveness.
Ahmed was critical of Trump’s tone when addressing terrorist attacks connected to ISIS, saying the president and some supporters aren’t as quick to draw conclusions following attacks or violence prompted by white supremacists.
Ahmed said people should instead seek out information about Islam.
“It’s not about converting people to Islam, but it’s more about just speaking to them, engaging with them, breaking bread with them,” he said.
Imam Salman Tariq agreed, saying Islam promotes peace and justice, and that an attack on one person is viewed as harshly as an attack on all.
He also said the Ahmadiyya community responds by welcoming the community to conversations.
“We believe that instead of going out on the streets, and marches and protests, this is the way we do our protests — by calling people in to educate our fellow Americans,” he said.
The group had a similar response when a neighbor shot at their South Meriden mosque following the November 2015 Paris terrorist attack.
Members forgave the man, Ted Hakey, who has partnered with the mosque as part of the Ahmadi “True Islam” campaign to promote unity, peace, and justice.
Both Thariq and Ahmed also condemned Tuesday’s attack. “It’s a heinous attack,” Ahmed said. “I don’t know how somebody could justify an attack like this.”
Along with the eight deaths, New York City police said Saipov, of Uzbekistan, injured 12 people when he drove a rental truck into a bike path in Manhattan. Police said Saipov left behind knives and notes, handwritten in Arabic, that said in essence that the Islamic State group, or ISIS, "would endure forever.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.