Roseville resident Nicole Miller chanted along with anti-sharia protesters Saturday in Roseville, waving an American flag at cars that drove past her on Galleria Boulevard. A red “Make America Great Again” hat kept the sun out of her eyes as she stood with other sharia law opponents.
“They cannot assimilate into the American culture,” she said of those who practice Islam. “We’re all patriots here, protesting and saving America as citizens.”
She was one of more than 300 people who gathered in Roseville to protest sharia law, part of a series of nationwide rallies organized by the grassroots organization ACT for America. Anti-sharia attendees were met with two camps of counterprotesters, who argued the rally served as the basis for anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric.
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Roseville’s demonstration was one of 28 rallies planned throughout the U.S. to voice opposition to the Islamic religious laws, according to the ACT for America website. The Southern California town of Oceanside, San Bernardino and Santa Clara were sites of similar gatherings in the state as part of the national March Against Sharia.
ACT for America describes itself as a group that works with legislators to “impact public policy and protect America from terrorism.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks the nonprofit, calling it the largest anti-Muslim grassroots organization in the country, with 280,000 members and more than 1,000 chapters.
Protests were held on different corners of Galleria Boulevard and Roseville Parkway, an intersection bordered by the Fountains at Roseville and Westfield Galleria shopping centers.
Roseville Police officers stood at all corners of the intersection during the rally, keeping the different camps separated. Two people were arrested for disobeying a police order, said department Lt. Jeff Kool. An official count for the number of people at each rally was not available from the police department, with Kool only saying that officers expected several hundreds to attend.
“It was peaceful,” he said. “People respected each other, which was most important.”
Anti-sharia protesters wore red, white and blue and held American flags in front of the BJ’s Restaurant. They chanted “Immigrants are not welcome” and “Sharia is not welcome.”
“The threat to Roseville is the ignorance of sharia law,” said Diana Verba, a rally organizer and ACT for America member.
Verba said that while the march was not anti-Muslim, she said ACT was critical of aspects of sharia law seen in Muslim-majority countries that impede on human rights, especially women’s rights.
Mairaj Syed, an assistant professor of Religious Studies at UC Davis, said sharia law is the moral and social rules that Muslims follow based on their interpretation of the Quran. Sharia law can differ from person to person because of the different schools of thought that exist about the correct interpretation of the Islamic text.
“(Sharia law) kind of regulates behavior,” he said. “It’s all about what you should do and what you shouldn’t do.”
Syed said there was a general misunderstanding of what sharia law was and that references to honor killings and child marriages were examples of outdated and extremist forms of Islam.
“I think what ACT is doing and taking the interpretation of a very small and extreme group and they are saying, ‘These are all Muslims everywhere and at all times.’ ”
Standing across the street, on the Fountains at Roseville side, members from the Bay Area ANSWER Coalition stood with “Stand up to racism” signs. Jamier Sale, an organizer with the group, said the sharia law protest was to spread anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“We’re here because this anti-sharia march sounds more like a march against Muslims,” Sale said. “We feel the only way to combat this is to come out in masses.”
Sale said the group invited members of Antifa, an anti-fascist group that made headlines at protests in Berkeley. They were present Saturday. Several men wearing shirts identifying them as members of the far-right, anti-government organization called the Oath Keepers, as well as the related organization, The Three Percenters, patrolled the anti-sharia site throughout the day.
Yama Karzai, 35, said he brought his three young children to the rally to “see what love and what hate looks like.” Karzai, who is Muslim, urged ACT protestors to do their research about the Islamic faith.
Members of Indivisible CA04, the local chapter of a resistance group that formed out of the Women’s March movement, also claimed a corner at the Roseville intersection and left at about noon. About 200 members wearing white held flowers and advocated for peace in front of the Westfield Galleria at Roseville.