When American Muslims for Trump founder Sajid Tarar offers readings at Saturday morning’s inaugural prayer service, he will be praying that God makes America strong and safe.
The attorney, who was born in Pakistan and lives in Baltimore, said he’ll also have a message for fellow Muslims.
“My prayer will be telling American Muslims that you have to stand up for America, how to appreciate America,” Tarar told NBC News. “The country has given us refuge, they accepted us with open arms, and we have to be a part of it.”
Tarar, who will read from the first chapter of the Quran, is one of several Asian Americans participating in the interfaith ceremony at Washington National Cathedral.
Jesse Singh, chairman of the Board of Sikh Associations of Baltimore, Maryland, and Imam Mohamed Magid, of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Sterling, Virginia, will also offer prayers.
Back in October, President Donald Trump angered some in the Muslim-American community when at a town-hall debate he called Islamophobia “a shame,” but suggested Muslims need to do more if they see something suspicious.
After Trump made similar remarks in June following the deadly mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, FBI director James Comey offered a counterpoint, saying that “some of our most productive relationships are with people who see things and tell us things who happen to be Muslim."
For Tarar, not enough has been done to combat ISIS and homegrown terrorism.
“I’m going to pray that God gives us the strength to fight this evil,” he said. “That’s what my prayer is about. My prayer is about the new beginning.”
This is the first inauguration that Tarar, his wife, and kids are attending, he said. In July, Tarar also stood in front of a national audience at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, and offered a closing benediction on the second day.
Trump had polled poorly among Muslim Americans, with just four percent having said they would vote for him, according to a survey released in October by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a nonpartisan nonprofit.
A large part of that aversion came from Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, according to the organization. Nearly nine in 10 Muslim registered voters in the CAIR survey said it was the wrong decision. Trump later dialed back on the ban, saying it would be “extreme vetting” instead.
Nonetheless, fears remain among Muslim Americans. In the days leading up to Trump’s inauguration, two helplines in Canada serving Muslims have recorded a sharp uptick in the number of incoming calls, many coming from the United States.
Many have voiced concerns over Trump’s Muslim-related comments, including talk of creating a Muslim registry.
But Tarar dismissed those fears.
“My question is this — why are people afraid?” he said. “If you don’t have [anything] illegal in your mind, if you’re not doing anything wrong, why do they have to be scared?”
Tarar added that he’s optimistic for the next four years and already feels the change.
“It gives me a lot of joy,” he said. “It gives me a lot of hope — a real hope.”