|Iman Irshad Ahmad Malhi|
Source/Credit: Dayton Daily News
By Katie Wedell | September 11, 2011
‘Terrorists ... hijacked the faith of Islam,’ one missionary says.
Muslims living in America have experienced a wide range of emotional experiences as their religion and culture have been labeled suspect in the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks.
Stories from Miami Valley area families echo those told across the country today as the nation remembers.
“Terrorists not only caused death and destruction on 9/11, but they also hijacked the faith of Islam,” said Iman Irshad Ahmad Malhi, a regional missionary for the local Ahmadiyya Muslim community.
The group has led various campaigns over the past decade to educate the public about the peaceful teachings of their religion. It’s something many local Muslims said they never worried about before 2001. Most Americans did not really understand Islam and did not have much curiosity about it.
“People were very welcoming. They didn’t really question the fact that we were Muslims,” said Mohamed Al-Hamdani, a second-year law student at the University of Dayton whose family escaped Iraq during the first Gulf War and moved to Dayton in 1992. “New Muslims aren’t getting the same kind of welcome that we got,” he said.
According to new research by the Pew Research Center, more than half of Muslim-Americans say anti-terrorism policies single them out for increased surveillance — 43 percent reported having personally experienced harassment in the past year, up from 40 percent in 2007.
Carol Bargeron, associate professor of history at Central State University, specializes in Islamic and modern Middle Eastern history. She said harassment complaints are not simply a resentment of being inconvenienced at the airport. “What I think they resent is the branding of their religion, their culture, their civilization as suspect,” she said.
Experiences in the weeks and months immediately following the terrorist attacks differ.
For Al-Hamdani, then a Wright State University student, the response was mostly positive. “I thought more questions were being asked and less finger pointing,” he said.
Others, such as Ahmadiyya member Tariq Ahmad, said their every move seemed to be questioned. When he moved to Toronto for a new job, the FBI questioned his supervisor. Abdul Shahid, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force, said he was pulled over while his family was moving. He was allowed to go only after showing his military ID. “It always seems like I have to have proof,” he said — proof that he is patriotic, American, and not a terrorist.
“We believe in patriotism. It is one of our religious obligations wherever we live,” Malhi said.
In the years since the attacks, Muslim-Americans have gone from defending themselves against individuals with misdirected anger to defending their entire religion against political attack.
“Attitudes have not changed,” said Khadija Israfil Ahmad, a long-time Dayton resident who has adopted Islam as her faith. “If anything they have gotten worse because of the political scene.”
Bargeron acknowledges that there has been an increase in anti-Islamic rhetoric, especially as it is expressed in public electronic media. “Most Muslims feel that broad-brushed anti-Islamic rhetoric is unfair,” she said.
Much of that negative rhetoric may come out of the fact that the 9/11 attackers were not acting on behalf of a recognized state or government, Bargeron said. “It’s hard to fight because you don’t have an easily identifiable enemy.”
What has gotten lost, many say, is the fact that Muslims worldwide were outraged by the 9/11 attacks.
“We, too, remain saddened by the events of Sept. 11,” Khadija Israfil Ahmad said. “It hurts us not only because of the lives that were lost.”
Shahid and his wife, Bushra, have three children ages 8, 6, and 5 who have known no other world than post-9/11 America.
“It’s very painful for me to see the way Islam is associated with terrorism,” Bushra Shahid said. Her husband said they talk about 9/11 with the children and try to explain, “This is what we are not.”
Al-Hamdani, 29, said he hopes the younger generation will be more visible in the political arena so that Americans see Muslims working for good. “As Muslims, we are all appalled by what happened,” he said. “The key is to be more involved in the political scene.”
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