Muslims Worry About Reprisals

Fort Hood Shootings Stir Concern About Reputation

November 07, 2009|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,matthew.brown@baltsun.com

When he saw the name of the Army officer accused in Thursday's shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Imam Awni Qudah got that sick feeling again.

"I feel nervous when I see a Muslim name or an Arab name," Qudah, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of Annapolis, said Friday at the Makkah Learning Center in Gambrills.

"What worries me is our neighbors, our reputation," he said. "Whenever something happens, everybody looks at us, and we do not want that barrier."

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a 39-year-old Army psychiatrist at the Army base in Texas, is accused of launching the attack Thursday that left 13 dead and 38 wounded. News reports have described him as a Muslim who was critical of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and who was harassed by fellow soldiers for his faith.

Base commander Lt. Gen Robert Cone said Friday that witnesses have told investigators that Hasan shouted "Allahu Akbar" - Arabic for "God is great" - before opening fire.

Arabs and Muslims in Maryland and across the nation are condemning the attack and extending condolences to those affected. Several have described the shootings as the work of an apparently sick mind, and they said such actions are prohibited in Islam.

Some also are expressing concern about the potential for reprisals against their community. Both the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued advisories urging constituents to, in the words of CAIR executive director Nihad Awad, "take appropriate precautions to protect themselves, their families and their religious institutions from possible backlash."

Anti-Discrimination Committee President Mary Rose Oakar called on law enforcement agencies "to provide immediate protection for all mosques, community centers, schools and any locations that may be identified or misidentified with being Arab, Muslim, South Asian or Sikh."

While officials in other cities have stepped up security outside mosques and other Muslim institutions in the aftermath of the shootings, a police spokesman in Baltimore said the department had yet to receive any request to do so here.

"Our [intelligence] community has their ears very low to the ground when it comes to dealing with these populations," spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. "We kind of have a good sense as to what their needs are, and we react accordingly."

Not everyone is concerned about reprisals. Baltimore attorney Alia Malek, author of "A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots, American Stories," was one of several who said their first thoughts on hearing about the shootings went to the victims and their families.

"Maybe a few years ago, backlash would have been higher on my list, but the U.S. has really kind of matured on this point," she said. "If there were ever a reason to brace ourselves for a really tremendous backlash, it was after 9/11. And, you know, it wasn't our greatest moment as Americans, but we've come through that with some more curiosity, more openness and more willingness to look at the different communities that make up the United States."

Farhat Noor, a software engineer in Baltimore, also identifies the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as a turning point.

"I think people have kind of understood that, yes, there are some people within the Muslim community that have done things like this, but the people I've interacted with have been able to differentiate that, yes, this happened, but it's not linked to the religion or it's not something that is preached," Noor said. "I was just talking about it with co-workers, and I don't see them looking at me any differently or thinking about me any differently."

Since 9/11, Arabs and Muslims in the United States have taken pains to distance themselves from terrorism and other violence. At a national conference on Islam held last month in Baltimore, one speaker called the use of Islam to justify killing "an innovation" in the religion and warned: "Most innovations lead to hellfire."

"The Satan always has people that he will be able to deceive," Dr. Waleed Basyouni said during a presentation he called "Reclaiming Islam From the Jihadists."

Rizwan Siddiqi, a member of the Maryland Muslim Council, spoke Friday about the charity work that area Muslims perform - work he says is intended in part to counter negative impressions of Islam. Both Siddiqi, a Laurel engineer, and Qudah, the Islamic Society of Annapolis imam, condemned the Fort Hood shootings during the weekly juma prayer service at the Makkah Learning Center.

"Islam does not encourage killing," Qudah said. He said the broader community appeared to be getting the message.

"This morning, I received many calls from the churches around us," he told the several dozen worshippers gathered for the service.

"I was so happy hearing, 'Imam, we are behind you.' One of them said, 'I was so anxious last night thinking about you, thinking about your community. I hope nobody will do any bad thing.' "

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