Muslims in the spotlight

Muslims in the spotlight

September 9th, 2011 by Perla Trevizo in News

Imam Hammad El-Ameen prepares to lead a prayer at the mosque on Central Avenue in Chattanooga. It is the oldest of several mosques in the area.

Photo by Alex Washburn /Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

• 1.6 billion - World Muslim population.

• 2.2 billion - World Muslim population projected by 2030.

• 2.6 million - Muslim population in the United States.

• 6.2 million - Projected Muslim population in the United States by 2030.

• 93 - Percentage of Muslim Americans who believe other Muslims are loyal to the United States.

• 48 - Percentage of Muslims who believe they have experienced racial or religious discrimination in the past.

Source: Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, Gallup poll


COMING UP

Today: How have Muslims and Iraqi refugees fared in the last decade?

Saturday: What are schools teaching about 9/11?

- Braves players remember playing the first sporting event in NYC after the attacks.

Sunday: Forever altered: How has 9/11 change our world 10 years later?

- Sept. 11 attacks drive young man to join the Marines.

- Q&A with Chattanooga resident Gen. (Ret.) B.B. Bell

- In Life, transplanted New Yorkers now living in Chattanooga talk about their memories of 9/11.


ISLAM ON THE AIR

"Understanding Islam" is a weekly radio program that discusses Islamic topics. Hosted by Hammad El-Ameen, it airs from 10-11 a.m. Sundays on 104.5 FM in Dalton, Ga.; and 10-10:30 a.m. Sundays on 93.5 FM in Chattanooga.

For more information, call 706-459-1010.


HOW TO HELP

"Muslims for Life" is a nationwide campaign of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community to honor the victims of 9/11 and uphold the message that Islam values the sanctity of life, according to its website.

This month, it will hold blood drives at all its mosques and prayer centers in collaboration with other community organizations. The goal is to collect 10,000 units of blood, which can help save 30,000 lives.

For more information, visit http://muslimsforlife.org.


IF YOU GO

• What: Local blood drive

• When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today

• Where: Blood Assurance, Bryman Plaza North, 100 West Walnut Avenue

• Information: To schedule an appointment, e-mail NajiaH@gps.edu or call 706-581-0741. Walk-ins welcome.

Islamic extremists. Muslim terrorists.

The name of a religion and its followers, followed by words used to describe the 19 hijackers who killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

One single event changed how Muslims are perceived, not only in America, but in the entire world.

"Muslims are 1.5 billion around the world, and they [the terrorists] were a handful of people. ... Look what it did," said Hammad El-Ameen, the prayer leader, or imam, at the Chattanooga Islamic Center on Central Avenue. "Our actions have to reflect what we believe in."

A decade after the terrorist attacks, local Muslim-Americans say outreach has never been more important to educate people about Muslims and what they believe.

"[9/11] brought all of the people together like one cemented wall with a plan, and that plan was that we had to make ourselves visible," El-Ameen said. "We have to be diligent in our effort in telling people who we are; we have to show a good example of a Muslim, have good behavior, good character; we are all ambassadors of Islam."

Still, for most Muslims, things will never be as they were before 9/11.

"It's just like ringing a bell. When you ring it, it's rung," said El-Ameen. "It will forever stay in the minds of people now."

Muslims can't be disengaged anymore, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based Muslim civil liberties advocacy organization founded in 1994.

"You have to be fully engaged in the society, otherwise you are going to get run over, I think," he said. "That's maybe the lesson for American-Muslims."

REMEMBERING

Naseer Humayun can clearly remember what he was doing on Sept. 11, 2001.

Humayun, now a pulmonary and critical care specialist, was doing his residency at St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa., making the rounds of his intensive care unit patients when he saw the World Trade Center's twin towers falling on television.

"It was just ... I was totally ..." Humayun stuttered, searching for the right words.

"I was just extremely sad and basically hurt that this had happened," he said in an interview from his home in Tunnel Hill, Ga.

"No. 1, America had been attacked and then by people who called themselves Muslims," said Humayun, a Pakistan native who moved to the United States 18 years ago, eight of those in the Dalton, Ga., area.

His daughter Najia doesn't remember 9/11. She was only 3 years old. But she does remember watching a video in school when she was in third or fourth grade that showed the devastation after the attacks.

"It was really sad watching what happened," she said.

But the awkward stares from her classmates and the tension that followed were, in some ways, just as disheartening.

"It makes the Muslim community feel sad that many people in America are biased now and think most Muslims are terrorists," she said.

Neither she nor her family have been personally attacked, but she said after 9/11 one of her cousins in Maryland was called a terrorist at school and was teased.

Her mother, Khola Humayun, said she also feels the stares when she goes shopping or to the bank and she's wearing her hijab - the scarf Muslim women use to cover their hair.

"I feel sometimes a resistance but it's from people who don't know me personally," she said. "I don't know what's in another person's heart."

PROVING THEMSELVES

Since 9/11, many Muslims face a constant challenge of defining who they are, what they believe in, to everyone else. They must prove to the world that Islam is not equivalent to terrorism, that most Muslims are peaceful, that being Muslim doesn't mean hating America.

And it's their responsibility to teach people, said El-Ameen, who was born and raised in Dalton, Ga., and converted from Christianity in 1979.

"It's your duty to explain what this religion is," El-Ameen tells other Muslims. "Don't let people who have an agenda against Islam, don't let them define what Islam is."

And Najia, now a ninth-grader at Girls Preparatory School, said she remains strong in her faith.

"What [the terrorists] did, I don't associate that with Islam whatsoever," she said.

Hooper, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the level of anti-Muslim sentiment in society has risen in the last 18 months.

In New York, there was the controversy over building a an Islamic community center in Manhattan, a few blocks from Ground Zero. Closer to home, there's an ongoing battle in Murfreesboro, Tenn., to stop the building of a new mosque.

And this year, Tennessee lawmakers passed what the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugees Rights Coalition dubbed an "anti-Muslim" bill. It sought to criminalize what critics said were extreme aspects of Sharia, the individual and social duties prescribed by Islam. The law was later amended to remove any references to Sharia or religion.

Local and national Muslim groups agree that the majority of Americans are tolerant toward them and the bias comes from a small but very vocal minority.

"You've got two sets of people," El-Ameen said. "You've got those interested in Islam who will go open up a book and read, and then you've got a set of people who only listen to news propaganda. Those people deal more with emotions."

There was initial opposition to building a new mosque in Dalton in 2005, he said. Three years later, a house intended for the leader of the Dalton Islamic Center was burned. More recently, the door was knocked off the new mosque and some shrubs stolen.

"But what about all of the Americans who support mosques being built? You have a large number of Americans saying this is a country of freedom of religion," he said.