American Muslim Community Since September 11
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RAY SUAREZ: When the World Trade Center was attacked on the morning of September 11, Saif Rahman was just getting to work at a law office in Northern Virginia.
SAIF RAHMAN: One of the attorneys grabbed me, and he said, “Have you seen what’s happened? Have you heard?” I said, “what?”, And he said, “a plane’s hit the World Trade Center.” I ran to the TV set in our conference room and I saw the second plane hit, and immediately my heart dropped. I said, “Oh, no, I just hope this is not someone who claims to be a Muslim.”
RAY SUAREZ: Hazim Barakat, manager of the Old Town Islamic bookstore in Alexandria, Virginia, tried to explain the attack to his daughter.
HAZIM BARAKAT: “This is a criminal. This is… Doesn’t have to do anything with religion. Even animals doesn’t do this.” I said, “We have nothing to do with this. We are out of…” I said, “You were born in Arlington hospital,” so… Really, this is what I told her. My daughter, she is ten years old.
RAY SUAREZ: Northern Virginia has been a welcoming place to newcomers from all over the world, but all of a sudden this diverse area felt like an uncomfortable place to be a Muslim. Barakat’s bookstore had its windows broken in the day after the attacks.
HAZIM BARAKAT: Both windows were broken– like, big holes in them. And at that time, I tell you the truth: I was… I was very scared from this. It was two bricks, and there was, like, notes on them.
RAY SUAREZ: Oh, really? What did they say?
HAZIM BARAKAT: One of it says, “Hate to the Arab,” and the other one, “you come here to kill our people; we want to kill you. Get back… Go back home.” Stuff like this.
RAY SUAREZ: And at Jeb Stuart High School, these young women who had worn headscarves without a thought wondered if they would attract new and unwanted attention.
AISHAH HASSAN: Just like anyone else, we used to leave the house by ourselves, and could go to the store. But now we don’t leave the house unless we have someone with us, or… Yeah, we’re worried, of course.
ROHYA FAFA: We are wearing a scarf, and I feel like, you know, going to work and all that, I feel like people are seeing me a little different. I mean, I feel like they are thinking that I am part of the…
RAY SUAREZ: Dar el Hijrah, one of the largest mosques in the country, closed for days after the attack, opened again with heavy security for those entering to pray. Their spiritual leader is Sheikh Anwar Awlaki.
IMAM ANWAR AWLAKI, Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center: I think that every one of us now feels that if we go on a plane, we would be looked at with some suspicion. And for a whole community to feel like that, I mean, it makes the community feel that they are under siege, they’re under scrutiny. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling.
RAY SUAREZ: But that insecurity, the feeling of siege, was eased by a community that rose to reassure its Muslim neighbors. At the Old Town Islamic bookstore, Hazim Barakat received cards, flowers, and donations. A local businessman replaced the broken windows. “Please know that you have friends in this country, in our mutual country. Do not lose faith. Do not lose hope. Believe that the vast, vast majority of people are good.”
HAZIM BARAKAT: This is what really touched me, you, everybody. This is like… People, they came from all over. Like even I didn’t think this will happen, because this– I’ll tell you the truth– will not happen in any country in the world.
RAY SUAREZ: Middle Eastern cafe and gift shop owner Muhammad Khattad was traveling September 11, and wasn’t prepared for the reception he got when he came home to Virginia.
MUHAMMED KHATTAD: People were hugging me, neighbors who were not speaking to me for some business reason decided to come and say hi– Jewish, Christian, all kinds of people– white, black. All kinds of people come and show support. I’m so glad that people really care about me.
RAY SUAREZ: And Dar al Hijrah’s neighbors worried about the locked gates. Patty Morris and Hdayah Waran leafleted their neighborhood, inviting everyone to a candlelight vigil at the mosque.
PATTY MORRIS: We were very nervous, and as we were standing here with all our kids, wondering is anybody going to show up for this, we suddenly watched as groups just began to walk up. And it was really lovely, and it made me really proud of this neighborhood.
HIDAYA WADRAN: The imams came, and a lot of people had a lot of questions about Islam and what does Islam think about the terrorists.
RAY SUAREZ: On a recent Friday, Dar el Hijrah was more crowded than usual, just as many houses of worship have been. The men who came to pray come from many continents, of all ages and walks of life. Their prayers spoke of a compassionate and merciful God, a God of peace and justice. Their imam, Sheikh Awlaki, delivered a tough assessment of a war he maintains did not begin in September, but long before, in the cold war, and with the United States’ support of Israel and the blockade of Iraq.
IMAM ANWAR AWLAKI: Our position needs to be reiterated and needs to be very clear. The fact that the U.S. has administered the death and homicide of over one million civilians in Iraq, the fact that the U.S. is supporting the deaths and killing of thousands of Palestinians does not justify the killing of one U.S. civilian in New York City or Washington, D.C., and the deaths of 6,000 civilians in New York and Washington, DC, does not justify the death of one civilian in Afghanistan. And that is the difference between right and wrong, evil and good, that everybody’s claiming to talk about.
RAY SUAREZ: Later at his home, over coffee and pastry, the imam talked about the tension between his flock’s opinion of American foreign policy and the affection for America itself.
IMAM ANWAR AWLAKI: You would find that the perception of the Muslims in the Muslim world about America is quite different than the perception of the American Muslims about America. Why? Because the American Muslims, they know what America is about. Yes, we disagree with a lot of issues when it comes to the foreign policy of the United States. We are very conservative when it comes to family values. We are against the moral decay that we see in the society. But we also cherish a lot of the values that are in America. Freedom is one of them; the opportunity is another. And that’s why there is more appreciation among the American Muslims compared to the Muslims in other parts of the world.
RAY SUAREZ: Even after ten years of tremendous growth in America’s Muslim population, feelings remain of not being fully accepted by Americans, or fully understood. But after September 11, the mosque ran out of some publications on Islam. Hazim Barakat sees greater interest from the general public in reading the Koran. And Aishah Hassan has noticed new interest from her fellow students at Jeb Stuart High School.
AISHAH HASSAN: One girl in my class, she was asking me the other day, “why do you wear a scarf,” you know? “Tell me about your religion; what you guys do? Why do you guys go to Saudi Arabia?” I was glad that she asked me so I could explain to her so she would know about Islam.
RAY SUAREZ: And how did she take it on the other end?
AISHAH HASSAN: She said, “Oh, cool,” you know? That’s how teenagers react.
RAY SUAREZ: Along with pleas for acceptance comes a reminder that the country’s religious landscape has changed. Saif Rahman came to America as an infant from Iraq.
SAIF RAHMAN: Islam is not something that’s… That came over a fleeting night and is leaving tomorrow. It’s something that is part of this society, and people need to get to know Islam and Muslims, as they are their neighbors, they are the people that work with them, their coworkers. And let’s understand one another instead of fearing and hating one another.
RAY SUAREZ: Rahman says he hopes more Americans will learn that Muslim Americans share this country’s values too.