NEW ORLEANS - Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is rejecting criticism that his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. is un-American. New Orleans area Muslims call Trump's position "hate speech."
Dr. Ahmad Jabbar, a New Orleans native of Palestinian descent, is a dermatologist practicing at several local hospitals.
"I feel the bigoted statements that are made by Donald Trump and his supporters are only going to propagate further hatred and a division in our country," Jabbar said. "This is something that is contributing to terrorism in itself."
Abdur Rahman Bashir is the Imam at the Muslim Mosque, Masjid Abu Bakr on David Drive in Metairie.
He says he's saddened that Trump is comparing all followers of Islam with members of the terrorist group ISIS.
"It's very sad that someone would judge a religion that had 1.8 billion followers based on the actions and the ideology and mentality of a fraction of Muslims," Imam Bashir said. "As a Muslim in this community and as many Muslims in America, we feel very saddened."
Closer to home, Jefferson Parish Councilman Ben Zahn is drawing fire from the ACLU for comments attributed to him during the Christmas lighting ceremony at Lafreniere Park.
He was quoted as saying that all religions "within reason" are accepted in the event -- accept those associated with the group, the Islamic State.
"The First Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution) protects everybody's right to whatever religion they chose and it's not for the government to say whether it's acceptable or not and also the right to any kind of political beliefs you chose," Majorie Esman, Execuitive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana said.
Tuesday, Zahn said all religions are welcome in Lafreniere Park.
"There's a lot of American Muslims that are friends of mine and friends of yours I'm sure," Zahn said. "They go to work everyday like we do. They celebrate holidays and celebrate Christmas just like we do. They're absolutely welcome in this park. Never said they weren't welcome. Just the terrorist group ISIS is not welcome."
Local Muslim leaders hope these recent events serve as teachable moments for those with questions about their religion.
"We are in this country as peaceful citizens, law abiding, taxpaying citizens," Imam Bashir said.
"Our religion is one of peace and we are more than happy to have a rational discussion with anyone who is willing to approach us in a peaceful calm manner," Dr. Jabbar said.
Zahn said he is now working with some local Muslims to make sure they are represented at the giant Christmas light display in Lafreniere Park.