1. Florida Politics

Bob Buckhorn to Tampa Muslims: 'We will stand with you forever'

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn spoke to more than 3,000 people Friday at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area during an afternoon prayer service. LUIS SANTANA  |   Times
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn spoke to more than 3,000 people Friday at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area during an afternoon prayer service. LUIS SANTANA | Times
Published Feb. 4, 2017

TAMPA — Sunday night, after a weekend of tumult following President Donald Trump's temporary ban on entry visas for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the executive director of the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area sent a text asking Mayor Bob Buckhorn to come to his mosque.

"Many in our community are living in fear for nothing that they have done or caused," wrote Mahmoud Elkasaby. "Your visit would for sure comfort and ease these people's pain and distress."

On Friday, following a 1:30 p.m. sermon on the duty to fight discrimination and do justice, Buckhorn, in a dark pinstripe suit and navy blue socks, his shoes left outside the front door, spoke to more than 3,000 in the mosque and an annex.

"I came here for a simple reason . . . to tell you this city has your back," Buckhorn said. "We will never demonize anybody based on your race or your creed or your color or your ethnicity (or) the god you worship. All of us came from somewhere else."

For Buckhorn's ancestors, that meant fleeing Ireland in the 1800s to escape the potato famine and anti-Catholic persecution.

Now, said Buckhorn, a Democrat, longtime Trump critic and possible candidate for governor in 2018, the president's executive order betrays long-standing American commitments to build a nation dedicated to the freedom of people from many different places.

"The Muslim community is a shining part of that mosaic," Buckhorn said. "And make no mistake: It's a ban. It's an attack on Islam as a religion. . . .

"I want the children to hear me more than anybody: We love you. We honor you. You are a part of who we are. We celebrate your faith. We want you to be a part of this community and give back. We treasure the fact that you chose to come here. You are us. . . .

"I don't care what this president does. . . . It is time for us to say, 'That is not what America is. That is not what we stand for.' You are our friends. You are our brothers. We may worship a different god, but we all believe in something bigger than just ourselves. That is this country and that is each other. . . . That's why I'm here, and that's why we will stand with you forever."

Afterward, Buckhorn said he was on a conference call Thursday with other members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, including his counterparts from Los Angeles; New Orleans; Austin, Texas; Knoxville, Tenn.; Oklahoma City and Columbia, S.C., to discuss a possible legal challenge to some or all of Trump's order.

And as Buckhorn mingled, members of the mosque said they were grateful.

"The message was clear: This country stands for freedom and justice and brotherhood," said Mohammed Qaudeer, 46, an IT director who was born in India, came to the United States in 1992, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and lives in Tampa.

Trump, Qaudeer said, made Muslims feel like aliens, and the election made him feel like "our country is being hijacked."

But listening to Buckhorn, he said, "It's clear that's not the message every American carries."

Talal Ahmed, 48, came to the United States seven years ago after fleeing Baghdad and spending four years in Syria. He works as a mechanic for a rental car company, has a green card and is going through the citizenship process. He speaks English but expressed extended thoughts in Arabic.

"These days, there's a lot of hate going on against our community, and having a person like the mayor (here) makes us feel safe and makes us feel more like a part of this community," he said in Arabic, with a friend translating.

For Elkasaby, who invited Buckhorn, the mayor's visit "means everything for us."

"You did not need to ask anybody a question" about what they thought of Buckhorn's remarks, he said. "You see so many people gathered around the mayor, to shake hands and hug and kiss him and say 'Thank you so much for coming.' That speaks enough."