Hattiesburg Muslims react to Trump's travel ban

Hattiesburg Muslims react to Trump's travel ban

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Jerry Buti has called Hattiesburg home for almost 40 years. Growing up in Bethlehem, the keeper of the Islamic Center of Hattiesburg said he did not notice religious differences.

"(Bethlehem was) about 95 percent Christians and 5 percent Muslims, and I used to go to the church all the time," Buti said. "When I was a kid, my mom would send me with my neighbors. They loved it. I mean, we never felt that there is a difference between Muslims or Christians."

Now, he said differences are being emphasized by President Donald Trump's 90 immigration ban from seven Muslim-majority countries.

"It is very sad," Buti said. "It's very sad what's been going on. It's very sad because a lot of people, they're, right now they are in limbo. They don't know what to do. We hear that there are students, they have one year to finish their college, and they can't come back. We have a lot of people that are very professional, and they are on a working visa. I'm not sure if they leave this country they will be back, so we live in an uncertain time."

Ameer Buti, a student at The University of Southern Mississippi, said it is that uncertainty he worries about.

"That's what we're afraid of," he said. "What's going to come afterwards?"

While he is not impacted by the executive order directly, he still said it feels personal.

"These are some good friends, family friends, people we've known (and) have gotten close to that one day they might be here, one day they might not," he said. "We don't know what's going to happen."

Buti said, "If he did what he promised towards banning, banning the Muslims and the registry for the Muslims in this country, that's kind of going to be big minus for the country."

However, Trump has stated the order is not a ban against Muslims, but a temporary stopping to immigration and refugee program for people from certain countries.

"This is not about religion - this is about terror and keeping our country safe," Trump said in a statement.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who in 2015 said he would do "everything humanly possible to stop any plans from the Obama administration to put Syrian refugees," agrees with Trump that the order is not religious.

"I think they're a lot of people over reacting to it," Bryant said. "Things like this have been done in the past. I think it was done in the Carter administration and I believe under even the Obama administration. We're going to have a temporary halt and pump the breaks on immigrants coming from certain countries, not based on religion but because of the challenges those countries may have in vetting people coming to the U.S. It's important to remember there is no law or right for people to just enter the U.S., it's a decision for the federal government and for the President. I've always been concerned with Syrian refugees. The head of the FBI has said there is no way to thoroughly vet Syrian refugees, so again I think this will put a halt on that until they can be thoroughly vetted, and I think that's the right thing for the President to do."

Wisam Beauti, president of the Muslim Student Association at The University of Southern Mississippi, agrees people should not jump to conclusions and said it will take time to understand the full impact of the executive order.

"The kind of dismissive rhetoric and the offensive speech that's been going on in our political system might rile up some emotions," Beauti said. "You know, us 20-somethings want to say something real quick, but I think it's very important to educate ourselves and to stay on top of the facts and not get riled up with the hysteria. Getting in to the United States is hard enough as it is, and this executive action is just making it a little bit harder. It might be for good reason. It might be for bad reason. It might be completely pointless. We'll figure that out."

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly clarified Sunday that green card holders from the seven banned countries will be allowed back into the U.S., and here in Hattiesburg, all are welcome at Buti's center.

"(We) want the community to understand we welcome anyone who would like to come and visit us during the prayer time," he said. "We have a Friday prayer at 12:15, and we have almost 100 people that come here and pray with us. We have a lot of Christians. We have some Jews. We have some from everybody. They come by and join us in this center. We welcome everybody, and if you don't know (anything) about Islam, we will be glad to tell you about it, and matter of fact, we are going to give a copy of the English language of the Quran. We're still proud to be in this country."