9/12/01: Area Muslims express concern

This story originally appeared on Sept. 12, 2001.

CHAMPAIGN - The last time there was a major terrorist attack on this continent, the first people to be blamed were the Muslims.

Even though the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was exactly a year to the day after federal agents and David Koresh cult members warred in Waco, Amid Rahman heard the first slurs against Arab-Americans.

He was in high school then, and felt generally accepted.

But even joking references to Arab terrorism pained him.

"It hurts any time you feel your religion is given a bad name, and you know your religion is against violence," said Rahman.

He is now is president of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Illinois.

His group was one of several Muslim and Arab-American groups to issue statements Tuesday that condemned the terrorist attacks and reminded Americans not to jump to the conclusion that Arabs were to blame.

The United Muslim Americans Association of Illinois called for "the immediate capture of the perpetrators. We believe that there could be no just justification for committing such evil acts.

"At this time of national crises, we call upon all officials, security agencies, and media not to rush to judgment and start accusing Muslims, Arabs or Palestinians.

"Let us not forget about the Oklahoma City bombing that was committed by a Christian."

Members of the local Muslim community concurred with that statement.

"The Muslim community of the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center join their fellow Americans today in condemning these horrific acts of terrorism and share the grief and sorrow of the nation," a statement from the center in Urbana said.

"Our hearts go out to the friends and families of those who are victims of this despicable tragedy," the statement said.

"Obviously, this seems to be a well-planned and well-coordinated act of terrorism and we are confident that the law enforcement authorities will soon discover the identity of the perpetrators responsible for this contemptible act and bring them to justice with the full force of the law," the statement said.

Aisha Sobh, a member of the mosque, said there have been previous incidents of harassment, vandalism and even violence directed at Muslims, often because of stereotypes.

"It happens, everything from remarks to vandalism," said Sobh, a graduate student at the UI. "There were Muslims in the U.S. attacked in the past."

The local mosque was vandalized last year and another mosque in Illinois was burned, she said.

"This is a moment of prayer and unity," the statement said. "We pray to God to give strength to all those who have suffered during this catastrophe."

Rahman said there doesn't seem to be any backlash against local Muslims not yet anyway.

"I've heard a few women who wear head coverings, there were some dirty looks. There are a few sparks of frustration. But I have not heard of anything being too confrontational," he said.

A prominent Arab-American businessman, Hazem Jaber of the World Harvest grocery store, said the opposite has been true in his experience of the day.

"We've had a number of calls from our customers who are concerned about our situation. They've even offered their homes to us," Jaber said.

Nor has business suffered, he added.

Rahman said local Muslims and Arabs may have it better here than in other parts of the country.

"This is an academic community. There is a lot of diversity. People are perhaps not as judgmental," he said.

And people are so judgmental as to blame an entire community for what one group does, he added.

"Matt Hale is a Christian," Rahman said. "But we know that not every Christian is like Matt Hale" in espousing white supremacist ideals.

Jaber said his first thoughts now are for the victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

He said that the catastrophe here did not add to his considerable worries about anything happening to his relatives back home.

"My relatives are in a very bad situation, in the occupied territories of the West Bank," he said.

"I don't think their situation could get worse."

 

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