U.S. Muslims Still Face Post-Sept. 11 Suspicion
Reuters - July 5, 2003
By David Morgan
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Nearly two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, America's 7 million Muslims are struggling to present a friendly face to a society that often treats them as a security risk, Muslim community leaders said on Saturday.
But Muslims who traveled to Philadelphia for a July 4 weekend convention said they were determined to find ways to integrate into the American social mainstream, despite perceived injustices imposed by President Bush (news - web sites)'s "war on terrorism."
"We are part and parcel of this society, and we are seeking its betterment. But we have to take our involvement to the next level," said Souheil Ghannouchi, president of the Muslim American Society, which co-hosted the convention with the New York-based Islamic Circle of North America.
The gathering, among the largest for U.S. Muslims this year, opened with the recitation of verses from the Koran.
Men, women and children, many in traditional Muslim dress, joined workshops on faith and Islamic living or sat in gender-segregated audiences to hear speakers call for a unified Islamic community and a larger moral role in U.S. society.
Leaders acknowledged that unity is a daunting challenge for a religious community that encompasses not only the theological gap between Sunnis and Shi'ites, but an ethnic labyrinth of Arabs, Iranians, Asians and both black and white Americans.
Yet Ghannouchi and others believe U.S. Muslims can provide the United States with an important cultural bridge to 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, while lending support to American conservatives on domestic social issues such as abortion.
In April, Muslims helped defeat a Maryland proposal to allow slot machines at state horse-racing tracks. Muslim groups have also stepped up assistance to the homeless in U.S. cities. And there are signs that Muslim immigrants can win acceptance in the nation's political arena.
"I have good news. I'm the first Muslim immigrant in U.S. history to win nomination to public office. And I did it with Muslim support and Muslim money," said Kamal Nawash, a Palestinian-born Republican lawyer who is running for the state senate in Virginia this year.
The main stumbling bloc is the U.S. government's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, which left about 3,000 people dead and led to a wave of detentions and deportations of Muslims.
"Most Muslim voters in the immigrant community voted for Bush. We're taking a beating for that now," said Naeem Baig, secretary-general for the Islamic Circle of North America.
Families who have lived in the United States for decades are now leaving in droves, with more than 40,000 Muslims abandoning New York City alone for Canada and other countries, conference organizers said.
"What we are witnessing is the political persecution of Muslims," said Nahla al-Arian, wife of former University of South Florida professor and Palestinian activist Sami al-Arian, who was arrested in February on terrorism-related charges.