On Sept. 11, 2001, Rashid Fehmi walked from his office in the Stabile Building in downtown Rochester to the Masjid Abubakar Siddiq mosque for his afternoon prayers.
He found the door locked.
That was the moment he realized that Muslims like him could face hatred or violence in reaction to the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. that day.
“There was a concern about what would happen to Muslims,” he said.
The closure also set up a response Fehmi still recalls two decades later. Area churches offered to open their houses of worship for Muslims who needed a space to pray.
"One thing I remember is how the Rochester community came together to support the Muslims," he said.
Fehmi, a senior financial analyst at Mayo Clinic, said he and his wife felt reassured by the community.
“We were careful, but we weren’t afraid,” he said.
Wale Elegbede was taking a military leadership class in La Crosse, Wis. When he learned about the attack, he immediately braced for reprisals against Muslims.
“I feared for the worst as far as backlash,” he said.
Instead, aside from isolated incidents, the country pulled together. He agreed the community in Rochester continues to support its Muslim residents.
He recalled the incident in 2018 when someone spread bacon at the Masjid Abubakar Siddiq mosque.
“The community came out and rallied,” he said. “When things like this happen, the community says, 'we’re here to protect you.'”
Elegbede, president of the Rochester NAACP, credits good leadership to help guide people away from embracing blind hate against American Muslims.
“These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith,” Bush said in his remarks. “And it's important for my fellow Americans to understand that.”
“George W. Bush did a good job of not fanning the flames of hate,” Elegbede said.
Fehmi agreed that the address and other strong statements helped quell resentment toward American Muslims and unite people against terrorism.
“(Bush) came out with strong statements,” he said. “I think that played really well.”
Following the attacks, area Muslim leaders formed the Rochester Muslim Community Circle to teach people about Islam and invite people to learn about the religion and the ways Muslims worship.
That correlates with national trends, according to a survey by the Center for American Islamic Relations.
About 63% of the more than 1,000 American Muslim’s CAIR surveyed reported their mosque has done more interfaith outreach work since 9/11. About 69% of respondents said they personally experienced one or more incidents of “anti-Muslim bigotry or discrimination” since the attacks 20 years ago.
Elegbede said incidents of anti-Muslim vandalism and attacks increased during the last presidential administration, citing FBI crime statistics tracking biased-related crimes. He said that highlights the differences in leadership from the previous administration, which he did not name, and leadership under President Bush.
“Leaders bring people together,” he said.
Elegbede added 9/11 showed that most people can set aside differences and come together in crisis. We just need to learn to do it more, he added.
“We need to get out of our own way,” he said. “We need to live the basic tenets of our religions or no religion and be your brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.”