Dr. Ayaz Virji and his daughter Maya Virji, 9, walk back to their car after making a stop to buy popcorn from a stand after his lecture on Islam at the Granite Falls, Minn., City Hall.
DAWSON, MINN. — The doctor was getting ready. Must look respectable, he told himself. Must be calm. He changed into a dark suit, blue shirt and tie and came down the wooden staircase of the stately Victorian house at Seventh and Pine that had always been occupied by the town’s most prominent citizens.
That was him: prominent citizen, town doctor, 42-year-old father of three, and as far as anyone knew, the first Muslim to ever live in Dawson, a farming town of 1,400 people in the rural western part of the state.
In two hours, he was supposed to give his third lecture on Islam, and he was sure it would be his last. A local Lutheran pastor had talked him into giving the first one in Dawson three months before, when people had asked questions such as whether Muslims who kill in the name of the prophet Mohammed are rewarded in death with virgins, which had bothered him a bit. Two months later, he gave a second talk in a neighboring town, which had ended with several men calling him the Antichrist.
Now a librarian had asked him to speak in Granite Falls, a town half an hour away, and he wasn’t sure at all what might happen. So many of the comforting certainties of his life had fallen away since the presidential election, when the people who had welcomed his family to Dawson had voted for Donald Trump, who had proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, toyed with the idea of a Muslim registry and said among other things, “Islam hates us.”
Trump had won Lac qui Parle County, where Dawson was the second-largest town, with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He had won neighboring Yellow Medicine County, where Granite Falls was the county seat, with 64 percent. Nearly all of Minnesota outside the Twin Cities had voted for Trump, a surprising turn in a state known for producing some of the Democratic Party’s most progressive leaders, including the nation’s first Muslim congressman.