Anti-sharia demonstrators hold rallies in cities across the country

PHOENIX - Marches and demonstrations happened all over the country today.

The rallies were dubbed the “March Against Sharia,” and they coincide with the Muslim holiday, Ramadan. The gatherings were organized out of fear that extremist interpretations of Islamic law might somehow spread across the U.S.

Many of the people who showed up to an event at Paradise Valley Park said they are rallying for women’s rights. They say their concern is that Sharia law only oppresses women and that they don’t want that in the U.S.

But there are others who say these claims are rooted in hate and racism.

"There is no racism here. There's no bigotry. People just take offense to Sharia Law,” said one man who attended the event.

They say they find it offensive because they're concerned about women's rights.

"All of it. I think America should have American law, not laws imposed by external religions on our country,” said Ken Bowers, who attended the event.

About one percent of the population in the U.S. is Muslim.

But these backers of “ACT for America” – the organizer of the March Against Sharia event – say they want to warn people about it now so Sharia law doesn't take over.

"It's very frightening where you have large Muslim groups that concentrate and enforce Sharia,” said another attendee.

The President of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, Samia Hussein, told NBC she thinks the protestors only want to spread hate.

"We're not going to paint a picture of just one community. We're here for everyone. The Act for America has been going around and spreading all of these lies and propaganda, getting people divided. In a time that we need to come together and be able to tell them that we will not let this happen,” Hussein said.

"There is a lot of stuff out in the media that might make us look racists, but we are really here to just education people and open their eyes to these dangers,” said an attendee.

And the marchers against Sharia say it goes against the Constitution.

"It doesn't give woman the right – any right. Too much violence here. Too many terrorists acts. Too many mosques,” said a man who attended the event at Paradise Valley Park.

"Shia Law involves female genital mutilation, wife beating,” said Ken Bowers.

Meanwhile, those opposed to the March Against Sharia events organized a “Rally for Unity” in the same neighborhood earlier in the day.

According to the Facebook page, the event was meant “to prove that out of many, we are one, and no amount of hatred can conquer the hearts and minds of those who live with love in their hearts.”

The local Ahmadiyya Muslim community also held an open house at 7 p.m. at its mosque in Chandler, which included an Iftar dinner. 

The rallies and counter-protests in Phoenix stayed peaceful, which was not the case everywhere. 

Hundreds of counter-protesters marched through downtown Seattle behind a large sign saying, "Seattle stands with our Muslim neighbors." Police kept them separated from dozens of anti-Shariah protesters during the sanctioned events, but they used pepper spray to disperse rowdy protesters when a large fight broke out afterward. Authorities say three people were arrested for obstructing law enforcement.
               
In St. Paul, Minnesota, state troopers arrested about a half-dozen people when scuffles broke out at the close of competing demonstrations at the state Capitol.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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