KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Demonstrations against Islamic law Saturday in cities across the U.S. drew counter-protests by people who said they stoked unfounded fears and a distorted view of the religion.
The March Against Sharia Law happened in almost 30 cities across the United States on Saturday, including in Kansas City at Washington Square Park at Crown Center. It was organized by ACT for America -- a group labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
A Facebook event organizing the March Against Sharia Law said, "If you stand for human rights, please join us to march against Sharia. Sharia is incompaitble [sic] with our Constitution and with American values. We stand against female genital mutilations and child marriages."
However, counter-protesters accused the marches of being not just against Sharia Law, but rather was part of an anti-Muslim movement.
About 100 people divided up into three camps: those marching against Sharia Law (or a set of laws and rules based on the Muslim faith), the Anti-Fascists who covered their faces with red fabric, and a third group which promoted diversity and inclusivity.
To be clear, there is no Sharia Law in Kansas City, nor is there any movement to implement it.
"You can't have Sharia Law in Kansas, but you can in Missouri," said Bob Burns on Saturday. "And we don't want Sharia Law."
Burns lives in the Kansas City metro and is a member of ACT for America, and he says he isn't taking any chances.
"This is such a huge threat to the security of our country," he said as he stood at Washington Square Park. "I'm going to dedicate my life -- the rest of my life -- to resisting radical Islam."
On the other side of Washington Square Park, a woman who would only call herself Justice put a microphone to her mouth.
"Today was a counter-protest to ACT for America's anti-Muslim protest," she said. "We wanted to come out and show that we support our Muslim neighbors. We are against Islamophobia."
And somewhere in the middle between all the people, the police stood guard, just in case.
"There are not as many people here as I would like to have," said Burns. "We are probably outnumbered by the security force."
Among the 100 people, there was a lot of cursing, a lot of chanting, and a lot of rhetoric about constitutional rights. Divided by fencing and police tape, politics and principles, the one thing notably missing: discussion.
The Kansas Chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, the KC Muslim Civic Initiative, the Crescent Peace Society, and the Women's March on Kansas will have a separate event Saturday night. The Unity Rally and Iftar (to break a fast during Ramadan) will be at 7 p.m. at the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church at 9400 Pflumm Road in Lenexa.
In other parts of the country, downtown Seattle saw hundreds marching, banging drums, cymbals and cowbells behind a large sign saying "Seattle stands with our Muslim neighbors." Participants chanted "No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here" on their way to City Hall, while a phalanx of bicycle police officers separated them from an anti-Shariah rally numbering in the dozens.
In front of the Trump building in downtown Chicago, about 30 people demonstrated against Islamic law and in favor of President Donald Trump, shouting slogans and holding signs that read "Ban Sharia" and "Sharia abuses women." About twice as many counter-protesters marshaled across the street.
A similar scene played out in a park near a New York courthouse, where counter-protesters sounded air-horns and banged pots and pans in an effort to silence an anti-Shariah rally.
"The theme of today is drowning out racism," said counter-protester Tony Murphy, standing next to demonstrators with colorful earplugs. "The more racists get a platform, the more people get attacked."
The rallies, held in more than two dozen U.S. cities, were organized by ACT for America, which claims Islamic law is incompatible with Western democracy.
The organization said it opposes discrimination and supports the rights of those subject to Shariah. However, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, calls it the largest American anti-Muslim group.
"I don't believe Islam can peacefully co-exist with the Constitution," said Seattle anti-Shariah demonstrator Aaron Bassford, 29. "I'm not going to tell them they can come here and take away my Second Amendment right. We need unity in this country under no ideology and no banner except the Constitution of the United States of America."
But the overwhelming majority of Muslims don't want to replace U.S. law with Islamic law, known as Shariah, and only "radical extremist groups" would call for that, said Liyakat Takim, a professor of Islamic studies at McMaster University in the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario.
Shariah, Takim said, refers to guidelines or principles — how Muslims should live. "Fiqh" refers to jurisprudence, or specific laws. The values embedded in Shariah do not change and are shared among Muslims, he said, while fiqh is open to interpretation and change, and in fact differs among Islamic sects and communities.
"The Quran allows slavery, so does the Old Testament. That doesn't mean we allow it today, too," he said. "Laws are amenable to change," Takim said.
The marches come amid a rise in reports of anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S., including arson attacks and vandalism at mosques, harassment of women wearing Muslim head coverings and bullying of Muslim schoolchildren.
In California, small but raucous demonstrations were held in a handful of cities, including San Bernardino, where a husband and wife inspired by the Islamic State group killed 14 people and wounded 22 in a 2015 shooting attack.
Clusters of protesters gathered on four corners of an intersection at a memorial to the slain, less than a quarter-mile from the building where the massacre occurred.
Police on foot, on horseback and in helicopters kept watch. But except for one brief moment when one group crossed the street to confront another — only to be herded back by police — there were no reports of violence and no arrests, police spokeswoman Eileen Hards said.
But it was noisy, with groups chanting, yelling and waving American flags and posters proclaiming various issues.
"There's an anti-Trump, a pro-Trump, anti-extremists, so there are a variety of messages here," Hards said. "There are so many messages going on that I'm not sure who's who."