Md. Muslims brace against harassment

Many feel threatened

police officer stationed at mosque, school

`People think that we did it'

Terrorism Strikes America

The Muslim Community

September 14, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

As a good Muslim, Rehan A. Dawer is schooling his young son in the rituals of Islam, from when to pray (five times a day) to how to step into a bathroom (left foot first).

As a good American, he's also teaching Arman to stand when the national anthem is played at Orioles games.

Dawer of Columbia wants his child to be faithful to Allah and country. But he worries more and more these days that other Americans think those goals conflict.

Every day this week has seemed a little darker for American Muslims as the nation's fury grew over the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

In Maryland and across the country, Muslims are seeing their patriotism questioned, their safety threatened.

The wrath reminds some of the attitude toward Japanese-Americans during World War II, or harassment they might have felt during the Gulf War or the Iranian hostage crisis.

From Chicago to Denton, Texas, mosques, Islamic community centers and Arab newspapers have been pelted with insults and explosives.

In Columbia, Dawer said, a man stuck his head out of his car window at a traffic stop and yelled at a woman wearing a head scarf in the next car: "You better hide."

On a North Baltimore street, someone spray-painted, "Kill All Arabs Now."

Area Muslims are bracing for more. Police have stationed an officer at a Baltimore County mosque and Islamic school 24 hours a day. The school has asked members of the congregations to take turns keeping watch overnight.

"People think that we did it," said Abid Husain, general secretary of the Islamic Society of Baltimore. After the attacks Tuesday, he said, a woman drove up to the gates of the society's Baltimore County headquarters, which also houses an elementary school, and started screaming profanities.

"The radicals, if they're really following the Quran, they would never do this kind of thing," he said. "It's totally prohibited."

Howard County police will caution Muslims about the potential for hate crimes against them when they gather for prayer at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia at 1:45 p.m. today.

"This is not what America's about," Dawer said. "America supports all faiths, all peoples."

Innocents suspected

Federal officials have said one of their prime suspects in the attacks is Osama bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire and radical Muslim who is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.

That's led to insults and attacks on other Muslims and Arabs -- and people mistaken for them simply because of their skin color or style of dress.

Outrage over the terrorist attacks could be fanning hatred and suspicion to extraordinary levels, but the sentiments are nothing new, said Kevin Jaques, a religious studies professor at Indiana University in Bloomington who will lead a panel discussion on the problem of anti-Muslim bias at his school next week. Several Muslims in the area have been attacked.

"America isn't necessarily a place where, if you seem to be different from the norm, it's a comfortable thing, period," Jaques said.

"And if anything happens that's ascribed to a particular group, that group just needs to be on guard. It doesn't make any difference if it's Jews or Muslims or African-Americans and Hispanics," he said.

Innocent Muslims are getting blamed for the terrorism in a way that all fair-skinned, Christian Army veterans did not after Timothy J. McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City's federal building, said Dawer, a Morgan Stanley vice president who had many close colleagues in the World Trade Center.

"Should there have been anger and frustration toward people who happened to be from his state or religion or even his skin color? No. The answer is no to that," Dawer said.

Yesterday, the leaders of nine Baltimore area mosques gathered at the Islamic Society of Baltimore's headquarters in Baltimore County to discuss how they, like many other groups in America, might help victims of the terrorist attacks.

They talked about donating money and blood, and finding ways for their congregations to offer professional assistance.

They also talked about how all Muslims should not be blamed for the attack, no matter who committed it. The Quran, they said, teaches peace.

"Muslims are not terrorists," said Hassan Amin, of Masjid Ul-Haqq, a mosque in West Baltimore.

It's a message they emphasized to younger Muslims, such as the 250 students at Al-Rahmah School in Westview.

Imam Adam El-Shiekh called an assembly yesterday to assure students that, despite what some people were saying, violence is not the way of Islam.

"We don't want the children to be traumatized or feel guilty," said Laura Abdur-Rahman, school principal.

Stirring up fear

For some Americans, the terrorist attacks have stirred up a fear of foreigners akin to that felt after Pearl Harbor, when Japanese-Americans were held in internment camps.

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