HAZELWOOD • It was billed as an open house where Republicans and supporters of President Donald Trump could learn more about Islamic culture and meet some of their Muslim neighbors.
But it was difficult to find any supporters of Trump at the Dar-Al-Jalal Islamic Center Sunday afternoon for the event dubbed “Make America Whole Again.”
Speakers at the event talked to nearly 100 people — most of them other Muslims, plus a couple of dozen non-Muslims. Few were supporters of Trump, though.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations organized the event, and Executive Director Faizan Syed said he and his staff invited local conservative groups, such as a Tea Party chapter and local Republican Party officials.
Syed conceded it was a “first step” and said the group planned to hold future open houses. It’s important to try and reach Trump supporters directly because CAIR open houses have mostly drawn more liberal non-Muslims.
“At that point, you’re just preaching to the choir,” he said.
Some Republicans did show up. One, Robert Vroman, is a St. Louis GOP committeeman who heard about the event after CAIR contacted the party. He’d never been to a mosque , and he said he found the event informative.
But he is not quite a Trump Republican: He supported Libertarian Gary Johnson for president, and he supports allowing more immigrants into the country to help repopulate cities such St. Louis.
“I’m basically for open borders,” he said. “I know that’s a rare opinion in the Republican Party.”
One speaker was a Trump supporter. St. Louis Republican Party member Eli Karabell said he converted from Judaism to Islam when he was 19. He argued that Trump is not anti-Islam and urged Muslims to participate in the Republican Party.
“We need to start getting more active and more involved,” he said.
Afterward, Karabell said organizers had not done a good enough job of inviting Trump supporters, who he said were probably hesitant to attend an event hosted by a group that in the past has criticized the president’s policies.
“Where was the ‘make America great again’ hat?” he said.
Several members of John Knox Presbyterian Church in Florissant attended after a representative from the mosque spoke to its members last week.
Some of the Christians hadn’t been to a mosque before, and Pastor John Higgins said it was part of the church’s “sense of faith and discipleship” to reach out to the other religious group. The Presbyterian Church USA is, however, one of the more liberal Protestant denominations.
Told that a reporter was looking for Trump supporters, Higgins just smiled and said, “Sorry.”