Qasim Rashid has spent much of his life fighting for and defending human rights, first as a lawyer, then as a spokesman for the the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.
Oscar “Oz” Dillon held anti-Muslim views and often targeted his ire at Rashid, who’s running for Congress in Dillon’s district.
The two were never supposed to find common ground, let alone form a friendship.
But a small act of kindness led the two to meet – and forced Dillon to examine his bias.
“He has opened my eyes to a whole new world about Islam,” Dillon told CNN.
Rashid combats Islamophobia
Rashid is running for Virginia’s District 1 seat in Congress as a Democrat, a public position that’s opened him up to heaps of Islamophobia.
At times, the comments have been dangerous: In December, a man was convicted for threatening to lynch Rashid when he was a candidate for state senate.
But he’s still active on social media, defending his policy positions and engaging with hundreds of thousands of followers. He criticizes President Donald Trump and his conservative opponents.
It’s where he met Dillon. Dillon had tweeted critical, often offensive comments at Rashid since his first campaign for state senate.
In response to a recent tweet from Rashid about education funding, the 66-year-old sent a tweet with an offensive meme about Islam.
Rashid told CNN the meme was “highly offensive, deeply hurtful and frankly dangerous.”
He doesn’t usually indulge offensive comments on Twitter, but Dillon’s tweet stung. He was about to reply with links to teach Dillon why his misconceptions about Islam were incorrect.
But when he clicked on Dillon’s profile and saw a GoFundMe link in his bio, he took a different approach.
“Idk who [Dillon] is but he tweeted a deeply hurtful & false attack on me for my faith,” Rashid tweeted. “My faith instead teaches me to serve all humanity—so Ive [sic] donated $55 to his GoFundMe to help him & his family cover crushing medical debt.”
He asked his 290,000 followers to do the same.
Dillon examines his bias
Dillon told CNN that he’s held anti-Muslim views since the 9/11 attacks, so he was shocked that the Muslim candidate had treated him with such kindness.
“The vitriol I put against him during his campaign last year … that he would research me and reach out to me, it absolutely flabbergasted me,” he said.
Dillon started the GoFundMe to cover his wife’s medical bills. She had a double pulmonary embolism in 2018, and while he said she’s improved, she still uses a walker to get around the house and isn’t a candidate for surgery because of her condition.
Dillon sent the GoFundMe link to his conservative delegates and none of them donated.
“Not a one came back to me,” he said. “But Qasim, who I derided, poked fun at and was horribly humiliated and humbled by, is reaching out. He took the time to look into why I was doing this and who I am.”
After Rashid shared Dillon’s GoFundMe page, hundreds of his supporters poured donations into relieving Dillon’s medical debt.
It stunned him.
He immediately emailed Rashid apologizing for his comments and thanking the candidate for his donation. He asked if Rashid would meet him at his home so he could plant a campaign sign in his yard.
So they met, first at Dillon’s home, then over coffee. Dillon admitted how little he understood about Islam and how much of what he believed was incorrect.
“We’ve come to understand each other, speaking with a sense of stability,” Rashid said. “He wanted to be supportive however he could.”
How things have changed
With Rashid’s help, Dillon raised over $22,000 on GoFundMe, more than his goal. He’ll use the funds for a new wheelchair for his wife and donate the rest to St. Jude and the American Heart Association.
Dillon still tweets his political opinions loudly. But he’s stopped sending anti-Muslim tweets. He’s considering voting for Rashid, something unthinkable just last month.
“I think of Qasim as a patriot,” Dillon said. “What is a patriot? Someone who does for the good of the community.”
Rashid said Dillon is committed to improving and learning more about his biases. He never expected his digital act of good would lead them to meet and discuss their differences.
“You can’t expect marginalized communities or people of color to educate all the time,” he said. “It’s exhausting. But I don’t see it as additional work. I see it as the work I signed up to do.”