Protesters, counter-protesters square off at ‘March Against Sharia’

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A "March Against Sharia" event that took place in dozens of cities across the country drew protesters and counter-protesters outside the statehouse Saturday.

Protesters said they were denouncing Sharia law and promoting human rights, while anti-protesters showed up to say refugees are welcome and denounce what they call hate. That all created heated moments, with police having to step in the middle at one point.

The marches were hosted by the group Act for America. It said Sharia law runs contrary to basic human rights. Protesters in downtown Indianapolis said they're speaking out against genital mutilation and honor killings.

"We're also for the United States Constitution as it reads to protect your right of freedom of speech," Randy Kemp, with Act for America, said.

The demonstration comes after central Indiana religious community leaders condemned a billboard on I-465, which protesters said they did not put up.

"The billboard is a symptom of increasing incivility towards Muslims," Charlie Wiles, the executive directer for the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, said during a press conference Friday.

During the same press conference, Muslim community leaders also asked Muslims to not counter demonstrate.

"The real worry is that this sort of thing incites other actions, possibly more hate speech or more violence," Razi Nalim, the president of Muslim Alliance Indiana, said of the march Friday.

Saturday, counter-protesters made sure their message was seen, too. They held signs welcoming refugees.

"I do appreciate them being there and offering their support," said Rima Shahid, the executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana.

Shahid said the Muslim community also denounces honor killings and female genital mutilation, and that Sharia law does not counter the Constitution.

"There's also a clause in Islam that says the law of the land trumps any other law," Shahid said.

Political leaders also spoke out on social media.

Before Saturday's event, Mayor Joe Hogsett tweeted "While this display and today's planned protest are incredibly disheartening, we will continue to come together to reject hate #IndyWelcomesAll"

Rep. Andre Carson also made a statement on Facebook. He wrote:

"Today, Islamophobic rallies are being held across the country, including here in Indianapolis. Today’s rally is an attempt to paint all Muslims as dangerous and un-American, despite generations of evidence pointing to peaceful coexistence and valuable contribution to our society. It saddens me that this rally is being held in our great city, which prides itself for its tolerance and acceptance of differences. Now, more than ever, we must come together and support one another from viewpoints and groups that seek to divide us. #CounterACTHate"

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