Dr. Ayaz Virji is a prominent citizen of Dawson, a small rural farm town in Minnesota. At 42, he’s happily married to his wife Musarrat and together they have three children. Born in Kenya, Ayaz is of Indian descent and was raised in Florida. And as far as anyone knows, the Virji’s are the first Muslim family to live in Dawson.
Before the election, Dr. Virji says he felt safe. When the family moved there three years, they found the town “welcoming and wholesome.” The schools welcomed their children and the hospital was thankful to have a doctor of Ayaz’s capabilities, with a master degree from Georgetown University and an interest in rural medicine. His wife, Musarrat said that people on the street wouldn’t stare rudely at her hijab but rather offered smiles and hellos. But all that seem to have changed on election night when Trump won Lac qui Parle County, where Dawson is the second-largest town, with nearly 60% of the vote. President Barack Obama had won that county twice.
Post election, Dr. Virji says he noticed a dramatic change. A local Lutheran pastor, Mandy France, reported to him that people had started to ask inflammatory questions about Islam, asking her why Islam “hates us.” The pastor encouraged him to deliver lectures about his faith. The doctor reluctantly agreed though one of his lectures ended with several men calling him the antichrist. Despite this, he agreed to another talk in a town thirty minutes away – but there were security concerns. A neighbor even offered him a bullet-proof vest. “I’ve got all this to think about — the talk, and now I have to worry about security. I mean, I’m not Martin Luther King,” quipped the doctor.
Here are some snippets from his Granite Falls speech:
“…it’s easy to demonize…. What kind of society does that create? That’s what ISIS does. That’s what these zealots do. Do we want to be like that? As Americans, don’t we want to be better than that? We better be better than that….”
“How come only Islam has terrorism? The KKK had 5 million members in the 1920s. Lynching of black people was normal. It was routine. Why don’t we look at ourselves, too, as well as others? You have alternative facts? Then go to a different lecture…”
“I’ll tell you, after the election, I was angry. And I was angry at my community for what they did. And I was ready to leave. Okay? I was ready to go and say you know what? Not my job. People think I’m a terrorist? I’m outta here. Fine. Find somebody else…. Why should I come to rural America and help people who think I’m a terrorist and say, ‘Let’s ban these people from coming here! Ban these doctors from coming here!’ ”
On this, a local man suddenly stood up and said: “I hear a lot of pain from you this evening… Um, I’m sorry.”
He sat down and the room was silent. The doctor glanced around the room – at the two police officers there, the men with their Bibles out, and thought about that as he answered back: “Thank you for that.”