AMERICAN CANYON — Following similar declarations by the state legislature and other California cities, the American Canyon City Council has proclaimed August as Muslim American Appreciation and Awareness Month.
The proclamation represents the first time American Canyon has honored Muslims through an official decree, according to residents and leaders.
“I think this was a huge milestone for the Muslim community,” said Councilmember Mariam Aboudamous in an interview. “At a time when there is a lot of negativity at immigrants in general, and Muslims especially, it’s important to recognize immigrants because that’s what the county is made of.”
“We’re all products of immigrants, and it’s important to appreciate them,” said Aboudamous, a Muslim whose parents emigrated from the Middle East and settled in American Canyon decades ago.
Other local Muslims heralded the City Council’s proclamation, saying it represents a positive step toward acceptance of worshipers of Islam.
Najim Khan, who accepted the proclamation on behalf of the local Muslim community, called the decree “a great honor.”
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Khan said following the council meeting. “I think more cities and counties should do that.”
The California state Assembly adopted HR 59 two years ago declaring August 2016 as Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month. Other municipalities followed with their own proclamations, including the city of Santa Clara last month. American Canyon is believed to be the only Napa County city to adopt such a proclamation.
Khan said such actions by local and state governments could help reduce attacks on Muslim Americans.
“If there is awareness, then these things will subside,” he said. “These things will not happen.”
Originally from Pakistan, Khan settled in Vallejo 30 years ago. His property sits right on the border between Vallejo and American Canyon, he said.
“My backyard fence is in American Canyon,” said Khan, who serves on the board of trustees for the Islamic Center of Vallejo, which is both a mosque and community center for hundreds of Muslims living in Vallejo, American Canyon, Benicia, Martinez and other cities.
American Canyon does not have a mosque.
Khan said they welcome visitors to their center so they can learn more about them and their religion.
“The reason we invite people to the Islamic Center is not because we’re converting somebody,” he said, referring to fears expressed by those with Islamophobia. “We want them to know who we are. Basically we just want them to get to know us, who we are, and then there is no misunderstanding.”
He said the media often portrays Muslims in a negative light, and wants people to understand that he and others are not a threat.
“Most people have a misconception about Islam and Muslims,” Khan said.
He said local Muslims come from all walks of life and professions, from doctors to civil engineers. Khan offered as one example a local Muslim who works for Caltrans and regularly wears a head scarf.
“People, when they see him dressed like this, they think, ‘Oh, what is this man going to do next?’” said Khan. “’Is he going to blow us up or what?’”
“It’s all a misconception,” he added.
Mayor Leon Garcia, who read the proclamation at the July 31 meeting, said he has visited the Islamic Center, located in the Glen Cove area of Vallejo.
“I have enjoyed many times attending services there at the Islamic center and the hospitality and friendship” of its members, said Garcia.
The American Canyon proclamation states the local community “is enriched by the unparalleled diversity of its residents and takes great pride in supporting individual religious freedoms and is strengthened by the diverse religious, political, and cultural traditions of its residents, including those who practice Islam.”
It goes on to say there are about 1 million Muslim Americans in California, “the highest number of any state in the United States.”
“Whereas, the Muslim community is recognized as having made innumerable contributions to the cultural, political, and economic fabric and well-being of California and the United States,” the proclamation states.
It further says “it is appropriate to acknowledge and promote awareness of the myriad invaluable contributions of Muslim Americans in our community and across the country, and extend them the respect and camaraderie every American deserves.”