Growing up in America
Local Muslim girls discuss their lives and aspirations
Tribune Staff Writer
August 30. 2007 6:59AM
SOUTH BEND -- In terms of academics, Serene Ibrahim,
20, resembles other college students. She has set her
sights on a major, nursing, taking inspiration from
her aunt, a nurse, and her favorite TV shows, "Grey's
Anatomy" and "ER." She also plans on graduating after
finishing four years of studies, in 2009, from Indiana
University South Bend.
Serene, however, has never attended a typical college
party, and probably never will.
But that's all right with her.
Serene's faith, Islam, prohibits dancing with someone
of the opposite sex and drinking, so she finds other
ways to have fun with her non-Muslim friends.
"We go to the movies, we go out to eat, we go
shopping, and sometimes I go out of town" to visit
friends in Chicago, Serene says.
Muslim girls growing up in America, like Serene, may
face unique challenges in keeping their social life in
rhythm with their religious standards, but some local
Muslim girls say their lifestyles are more similar to
their non-Muslim American counterparts than many
In the wake of a recent Pew Research Center Study that
shows Muslim Americans are largely "assimilated" and
"happy with their lives," five Muslim girls living in
South Bend reveal they are no exception.
No strangers to fun
Serene, who moved to the States from Palestine when
she was 2, spent most of her time with non-Muslim
friends while growing up because South Bend has a
relatively small population of Muslims. Faith,
however, was always a dominating factor in shaping her
social life, in knowing where to draw the line, such
as declining college party invitations. As a child,
neither Serene nor her younger sisters, Nadia and
Heba, were allowed to attend sleepover parties, not as
a result of religious restrictions, but because of
cultural traditions. Their parents were simply leery
about leaving them at the house of a family they had
met only in passing, or not at all.
"I stay late, but I don't sleep over," says Heba, who,
at 12, is in the thick of the sleepover birthday party
trend. Sitting next to her on the couch of their home,
Nadia, 15, says, "Even though we live in America, to
(our parents) we still live in their country. ...
"We have to respect that they're our parents."
Although Heba didn't have a sleepover party for her
birthday, she asked her Muslim and non-Muslim friends
to join in an evening of fun.
"She invited a lot of her American friends over, and
they all showed up," Nadia says. "And we all did
Arabic dancing" (essentially belly dancing). "They
learned, and they got up and danced with us."
Although Heba held a party with Muslims and non-Muslim
girls alike, usually the Ibrahims split their time
between non-Muslim and Muslim friends.
Nadia and Heba don't see their Muslim friends often
during the school year because both have classes on
Friday afternoon, the time of congregation for
mosque-goers. During the school year, most of their
time is spent with their non-Muslim friends, whom they
see every day. During the summer, when they are free
to visit the mosque more often, they hang out with
And, "when (Muslim) girls get together, we open our
mouths and let everything loose," Nadia says.
School, movies and fashion are the primary topics of
conversation. And although these teenage girls don't
talk much about boys and relationships, they do dwell
on their favorite actors, such as Orlando Bloom and
Johnny Depp, stars of the blockbuster hit "Pirates of
Nadia says she and her Muslim friends don't talk about
relationships because dating is not seen as acceptable
social behavior within Islam.
"Muslims are commanded to lower their gazes and have
modesty -- all these things to avoid social and family
problems in our life," says Imam Mohammad Sirajuddin
of the Islamic Society of Michiana in South Bend.
"(Dating) leads to social problems -- unwanted
pregnancy -- and (teenagers) cannot focus on
education." Serene says that, instead, the engagement
period is reserved for a couple to get to know each
other. Depending on the family, engaged couples can go
out alone, or chaperoned, and call each other on the
phone. If the couple find they are incompatible, they
can end the engagement, which does not break any
And just as many Muslim girls have found ways to look
for their soul partners without having to date,
likewise they have found ways to enjoy a night of
dancing without visiting the club scene, which may
entail mixing with the opposite sex, drinking alcohol
and wearing revealing clothes.
Instead, at an all-girls party, girls let loose and
strut their stuff.
"When I go to an all-girls party, I wear a jilbab (a
gownlike traditional Arab dress) over my clothes,"
Serene says. "I wear, like, a short skirt and a tank
top or tight pants, and I still do my hair under the
hijab" (the Islamic head scarf).
And not only do girls get stylish for the occasion,
but they have fun dancing to Arabic music and
chatting, laughing and joking with their friends.
Space in faith for soccer
Although expectations of modesty rule out wearing
revealing clothes for Muslim girls, they can
participate in sports in connection with school and
during their leisure time with friends.
Abida Coric, 16, a Bosnian who moved to South Bend
when she was 7, spends much of her time immersing
herself in soccer, her favorite sport.
Abida, a junior at John Adams High, will be a
"floater," playing on both the junior varsity and
varsity soccer teams this fall. She is an avid fan of
international soccer, especially Brazil's national
"(Soccer's) kind of a family thing," Abida says. "It's
from our country (Bosnia). We watch it and we play
Abida enjoys more than just the thrill of soccer,
"It's more fun than just ordinary practice," she says.
"Before a big game ... we have dinner at one of the
players' houses, where we eat spaghetti or pasta or
lasagna, and we just spend time together."
Abida is allowed to wear the soccer uniform because
the shorts extend to her knees and she wears her
jersey and shorts relatively loosely.
When she starts wearing the hijab -- which she plans
on doing once she's ready for the questions, stares
and wardrobe changes -- Abida will have to wear a
soccer uniform with some modifications: full sleeves
and long pants.
When exactly she'll wear the hijab, Abida hasn't yet
decided. It's a decision, however, that each Muslim
woman makes on her own. It isn't imposed on her by
Abida adds that her faith encourages her to strive
hard to do well in whatever she does.
"Being a Muslim doesn't stop you from being the person
you are or who you want to become," she says.
What about being an exotic dancer?
Ah, there are certain things Muslims can't do ... but
by no means does Islam discourage girls from playing
Part of the Potter fan club
With their story lines set among witches, wizards and
evil dark lords, the Harry Potter books rank among
favorites for Sairah Chaudhry, 13. Even though some
Muslim scholars warn that children should not read the
popular series because they might become fascinated
with dark magic or witchcraft, Sairah's parents are OK
with their daughter reading J.K. Rowling's series.
"They know I know it's not real, and they know I like
to read," Sairah says.
Sairah did not attend any Harry Potter events the
night of the final installment's release, but when she
finally got her hands on the highly coveted book, she
finished it in three days.
"It was really, really good," she says. "It's the best
so far." Sairah is essentially a bookworm, having read
the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine and "A Series of
Unfortunate Events" series by Lemony Snicket.
Of course, Sairah still cherishes reading the Quran
and knows about 20 chapters by heart. During the
summer, she goes to the mosque to help teach Islam's
"I would go there and listen to the smaller kids read
the Quran for me," she says. "I check for
(pronunciation) mistakes. I help the imam teach."
While their social lives may not run completely
parallel to their non-Muslim counterparts', Muslim
girls see no conflict between adhering to their
religious beliefs and joining the work force.
In fact, the South Bend Muslim girls in this story
have ambitious goals.
Nadia says she would like to be a pharmacist one day,
and a beautician on the side, since she loves to stay
atop the latest makeup and hair trends.
Working hard to realize her dream, Nadia participates
in the Notre Dame Educational Talent Search, a program
designed to help low-income students, or children
whose parents do not have a four-year college degree,
prepare for higher education.
Meanwhile, Nadia nurtures her "beautician" side and
keeps up with fashion trends by reading People
And yes, she would like to marry someday and have a
family, but Nadia believes that will happen when God
"I personally think that when I get older, whatever
happens. It all comes from God."
Abida dreams of becoming a pediatrician. Right now,
her mission in life is to return to Bosnia.
Not only does she not see religion as restricting her
desires and aspirations, she sees her faith as
encouraging her to pursue her dream of reaching out to
"In our old country, the kids were very sick (during
the war). They weren't really taken care of," she
"So I always had a dream of helping them when I grew
The face of Islam in America
By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
HARTFORD, Conn. Ingrid Mattson knows the media drill
She has done the "We condemn
(fill in the terrorism
incident)" speeches as if, she says, that's all
anyone needs to hear from the president of the Islamic
Society of North America (ISNA).
She has done the profiles of her as first woman/first
convert/first North American-born head of the
continent's largest Muslim group.
She has done the talk shows retelling how 20 years
ago, she left the Catholicism of her Canadian
childhood and her college focus on philosophy and fine
arts to find her spiritual home in Islam.
"It's time now to move the focus back off me and back
on the issues," says Mattson, a professor at Hartford
Seminary, where she directs the first U.S.-accredited
Muslim chaplaincy program at the Macdonald Center.
Mattson begins the second half of her two-year term at
the society's Labor Day weekend national conference
outside Chicago. The annual event draws 40,000 Muslims
of every sect, culture, age, race and ethnicity for
scores of sessions on faith, family and society and a
massive multicultural bazaar.
But two weeks before the conference, sitting with two
women in her tiny, book-stuffed office, Mattson has a
moment to kick off her shoes. She sheds the long brown
jacket stifling her tailored blue blouse, leans back
and talks about her vision of American Muslim life and
her visiting friend, Heba.
Heba Abbasi, 31, a faithful young Muslim in her snug
black headscarf, is a Chicago inner-city public school
teacher, a fitness trainer, a Palestinian-American
wife with an equally observant mosque-going
Indian-American husband. Both are also triathletes
training for an event.
"This is who I mean. They are who ISNA has to serve.
They are why I'm concentrating on building a strong
religious and civic institutional life for Muslims in
America. I want to be sure I'm not the first and last
young woman leader. Why be a flash in the pan?" says
Mattson, who turns 44 on Friday.
A uniquely American Islam
She talks of nurturing a genuine American Islam,
rooted in the classical faith, which dates back before
the theological, political and legal schisms fractured
the Ummah, the Muslim world, centuries ago.
This is the faith she chose at age 23, drawn in, she
says, by Islam's beauty, its ethos of service and its
synthesis of life and faith in which every act relates
The key is not to confuse the eternal religion
submission to God, respect for the Prophet, prayer,
charity and the goal of pilgrimage to Mecca with
Islam's myriad cultural expressions that shift with
times and society, Mattson says. Her essays and
speeches are threaded with references to the Quran,
the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) and the Sunna
(the record of his practices).
American Muslim men and women alike should be
empowered to speak to public policy in all areas
medicine, ethics, law, education, justice, marriage
and family life by drawing from the common
wellspring of Islam, she says.
Ask others about Mattson and she sounds like
Goldilocks in a headscarf: too liberal for some, too
conservative for others, and just right to many young
"I'm proud to have her elected as my president," says
Eboo Patel, 31, founder of Chicago's Interfaith Youth
Core, which creates social-service opportunities for
Muslims, Christians and Jews. He sees Mattson's
message come to life in ISNA.
"The bulk of the American Muslim community is very
young and overwhelmingly under 40. Increasingly our
leadership needs to be people we can relate to," Patel
says. "She conducts herself within the ethos of
service that unites American and Islam. That's what
religious communities can offer at their best, the
inspiration to reach out to the world from the basis
of your own heritage."
But Pamela Taylor, a co-founder of Muslims for
Progressive Values, wants Mattson to push for women to
lead congregational prayers.
"I'm worried that she buys into the same logic that
can be, and is, used to restrict women from
everything: education, political office, even
driving," Taylor says.
Roles for women
Mattson shakes off that critique. Yes, she does
conclude, based on the Prophet's words, that an imam
who leads men and women together in prayer must be
However, other religious roles reciting the Quran,
preaching, teaching, scholarship, counseling and
issuing legal rulings are open to all. She's excited
about an upcoming book from a noted scholar who has
traced female Islamic scholars back 27 generations to
the wife of the Prophet. She lists the "man-made
obstacles to women's spirituality" that worry her
more: misogynistic sermons, misguided and demeaning
counseling, limited access to education and
scholarship, and prayer spaces for women that are too
small, uncomfortable or inaccessible.
As for whether men are in the front of the mosque and
women in the rear? "When you are bowed in prayer,"
says Mattson, "you are not in front or behind any
person. You are in front of God. That's the whole
point of prayer."
Jamillah Karim, an assistant professor of religion at
Spelman College in Atlanta, says Mattson is wise not
to focus on women as imams.
"Most women are not overly concerned with this. This
is an American religious community still in formation.
Women are more interested in issues of family life,
traditional concerns such as marriage and divorce,"
University of Delaware political scientist M.A.
Muqtedar Khan gives Mattson mixed reviews. He calls
her "an angel" and "the queen of American Muslims."
But he adds, "She'll never rock the boat.
"She's not radical on anything. She's allowed ISNA to
take strong positions against terrorism, but she'll
never be at odds with the government. You won't see
any criticism of U.S. policies. You'll see her
continue the talk about the diversity within Islam.
She'll make her mark as an activist with things like
her chaplaincy program but not as a scholar with
influential ideas or someone who modernizes thinking
within Islam," says Khan.
Won't rock the boat?
Mattson rolls her brown eyes. Headline-making,
provocative individual action holds no attraction for
"That's the 'great man' theory of history. Look where
that's gotten us. I want to build something. I'm
interested in long-term institutional strength," she
Mercy and caring
Topics at this year's conference include sessions on
faith and social justice and community service, and
one called "U.S. Sponsored Torture: A Concern for
Muslims and All People of Faith."
"If religion is not about expanding the borders of
your empathy, you might as well write it off," she
says. "Religion is all about extending mercy and
caring. If not, it's just tribalism: Muhammad himself
said religion should be the opposite."
Mattson says she takes on the controversies, too,
confronting in her own way the atheists, ideologues
and "Islama-phobes" who say religion is outmoded or
Islam is anti-Zionist or, simply, irrationally, fear
any Muslims among them.
"These days, if you say anything nice to or about
Muslims, it's seen as being soft on terrorism, as if
all Muslims were terrorists.
"Anti-Muslim sentiments are used as a way to score
points" in politics, she says.
"People see us, they see Heba and her husband, who
wears a beard and a kufi (cap), and they have no idea
the life they lead."
Or the life that Mattson leads.
If people saw her, covered from her colorful scarf to
her long skirt, walking 3 miles home on a steamy
summer evening, they would not know:
She's a mother of two teens.
She relaxes by mowing the lawn; juvenile rheumatoid
arthritis forced her to give up running.
She kept her name when she married her husband, a
Baghdad-born Egyptian engineer whom she met while
working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan in the '80s.
Photos of Afghan friends join family snapshots tacked
to Mattson's office wall, along with a newspaper photo
of an old man swarmed by pigeons he is feeding. It
inspires her, she says, because "this is a man who has
found exactly what he wants to do."
"What do you want to do?" may be Mattson's favorite
When someone asks her guidance, she'll reply: "Be the
kind of Muslim you want to be. Do not let other people
define your faith for you."
Mattson's Islam? "To glorify God through service to
Indiana Muslims Promote Islam
IslamOnline.net & Newspapers
Sat. Aug. 25, 2007
CAIRO Disturbed by the blemished image of their
faith, a group of American Muslims in the state of
Indiana are holding a multi-purpose event to paint an
accurate picture of the Islamic faith, reported The
Indianapolis Star daily on Saturday, August 25.
"We hope we can define Islam to our fellow Americans
(instead of the way) the national media and some
misguided Muslims are now defining what Islam is and
what Muslims are," said Salah Elsaharty, a spokesman
for the Alhuda Foundation.
The Fishers-based Foundation is organizing the
"Friendship Feast" event on Saturday to clear
misconceptions about Islam.
The event, to be held at a mosque and Eman Elementary
School on Lantern Road, features an "Ask the Imam"
forum to answer questions by attendees about Islam.
It will also see food banquets and soccer games to
help promote friendship between followers of the
Church and synagogue leaders, neighbors and FBI
officials in the town have been invited to the event,
which drew 200 attendees last year.
"We are trying to be inclusive of all people from all
walks of life (and) different ethnic groups," said
Elsaharty, urologist of Egyptian origin who moved to
Indiana in 1984.
"I am doing this faith awareness for the sake of the
American children at our Eman school and all the
schools across this great country."
The know-Islam effort was welcomed by Christian
leaders in Fishers.
"This is a good thing," said Father Brian Dudzinski of
St. John Vianney Catholic Church.
The Catholic pastor regretted smearing the image of
the Islamic faith because of the acts by some
"I think it is sad that any religion ruins it for
those who are trying to live their faith based on what
they believe to be the truth and peace," he said.
"Like we believe as Catholics, let people decide for
themselves. God will judge in the end."
Elsaharty blamed the media and Muslim extremists for
tarnishing the image of Islam.
Many critics have blamed Western media for promoting
prejudice and stereotypes against Muslims and Arabs in
Famed US academic Stephen Schwartz had criticized the
Western media for failing to meet the challenge of
reporting on Islam and Arab issues after the 9/11
A recent British study accused the media and film
industry of perpetuating Islamophobia and prejudice by
demonizing Muslims and Arabs as violent, dangerous and
There are between six to seven million Muslims in the
United States, making up less than three percent of
the country's 300 million population.
Virginia Candidates Court Muslims
IslamOnline.net & Newspapers
Fri. Aug. 24, 2007
CAIRO Recognizing the growing political Muslim clout
in the country, dozens of candidates for Northern
Virginia county elections in November will attend
Saturday, August 23, an annual event to address Muslim
voters and listen to their concerns, reported the
Washington Post on Friday, August 24.
"Every single vote counts, and smart politicians know
that," said Brian Roherty, campaign manager for
Michael Firetti, who is running for chairman of the
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
More than 50 candidates, running for Northern
Virginia's legislature and boards of supervisors in
Loudoun, Prince William and Fairfax counties, are
expected to show up for the "Family and Civil Picnic"
meeting organized by the Sterling-based All Dulles
Area Muslim Society (ADAMS).
Forty-three candidates have confirmed registration,
according to the ADAMS website.
The candidates will answer questions from more than
1,000 attendees about the different issues of Muslim
"Over the past few years we have seen a lot more
interest among Arab Americans in the civic culture of
our community," said Fairfax Country Supervisor
Penelope A. Gross.
Loudoun Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling)
said Sterling is a city of diverse ethnicities of whom
Muslim make up a sizable number.
"We have a lot of ethnic groups represented here," he
said. "Sterling is like the United Nations. It's a
very diverse neighborhood."
Delgaudio also said the Muslim minority reflects his
values of being "extremely moral and religious."
More than 86 percent of registered Muslim voters
turned out to vote in last fall's country election
compared to only 53 percent of the general population.
ADAMS, one of the largest non-profit Muslim
organizations in the USA, said the candidate
registration demonstrates the political clout of
Muslim voters and how they can make a difference.
"[The turnout] definitely shows that candidates feel
that Muslims are voting and are a force at the polls,"
said ADAMS spokesman Shirin Elkoshairi.
ADAMS, which regularly hosts elected public officials
and candidates from all parties for pubic offices
during Friday prayers, says that the annual event is
meant to show the candidates that "we're here, we
care, and we do vote" and to empower American Muslims
in the local politics to defend their civil rights.
"I think since 9/11, the Muslim community has learned
that any community can be attacked," said Mukit
Hossain, president of the Virginia Muslim Political
"When someone is attacked unfairly, we have to stand
in solidarity with them."
Since the 9/11 attacks, American Muslims have become
sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a
prevailing belief that America was targeting their
A June study sponsored by the Chicago Council on
Global Affairs and Washington's Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars concluded that the
Muslim American minority lacked strong institutions
and recognizable public or political voices to gain
regular access to government and media circles.
But Yahya Hendi, the Muslim Chaplin at Georgetown
University, said earlier this month US Muslims are
making impressive political strides despite a
ferocious media campaign and a powerful Christian
Democrat Keith Ellison became in November the first
American Muslim elected to Congress after having
defeated his two contenders in Minneapolis.
Islamic convert found guilty on terror conspiracy
By Leonard Doyle in Washington
Published: 17 August 2007
Jose Padilla, a young American convert to Islam, who
was jailed without charge in the aftermath of the 11
September attacks and allegedly tortured, was
convicted on terrorism conspiracy charges yesterday.
Mr Padilla achieved notoriety when the former US
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced on television
from Moscow that he was part of an "unfolding
terrorist plot to attack the United States by
exploding a radioactive dirty bomb" with the intention
of causing "mass death and injury."
Despite the hysteria whipped up by Mr Ashcroft, no
evidence was ever presented linking Mr Padilla to such
a plot. Yesterday's verdict was a rare legal victory
for the Bush Administration however. It has seen
charges thrown out against virtually all those swept
up after the al-Qai'da attacks on America. A federal
jury took little more than a day to reach its verdict
and Mr Padilla, 36, can now expect to spend the rest
of his life in jail.
His lawyers say their client was only a passionate
vocal Muslim, concerned about attacks on fellow
Muslims in places such as Kosovo and Chechnya. They
tried and failed to have charges dismissed on the
grounds that he was tortured while languishing in a
naval brig in South Carolina for three years. He was
only transferred to a civilian jail last year when the
Supreme Court threatened to take up his case.
The government's main evidence was an application form
it said Mr Padilla filled in under an alias to attend
an al-Qai'da training camp in Afghanistan in 2000. The
government said Mr Padilla's fingerprint was on the
form. There were also FBI surveillance tapes of
thousands phone calls he allegedly made between 1993
Anthony Natale, one of Mr Padilla's lawyers said he
was never connected to al-Qai'da and had no intention
to support terrorism.
"In this case, you will see how in the absence of hard
evidence, a suspicion can be fuelled by fear,
nourished by prejudice and directed by politics into a
criminal prosecution," Mr Natale said.
Mr Padilla's first visit to a Muslim country was to
Egypt, in 1998. He went there because he wanted to
become an imam, according to Mr. Natale, who said the
Bush Administration's charges of a conspiracy to
"murder, kidnap and maim" people overseas was
American Muslims: second-class citizens?
By PARVEZ AHMED
Special to the Star-Telegram
Posted on Mon, Aug. 13, 2007
In December 2001, the U.S. Treasury Department named
the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation (HLF), at that
time the nation's largest Muslim charity, as a
terrorist organization. The government seized HLF's
assets and shut it down, effectively freezing millions
of dollars in religiously obligated donations made for
the purposes of feeding the poor, the orphan and the
After three years of investigation, the government
"revised" its allegations, and a federal grand jury
issued a 42-count indictment against seven individuals
associated with HLF. The indictment alleges that these
individuals were part of a conspiracy to provide
material support to organizations linked to Hamas
(designated as a terrorist organization by the State
Almost six years later, HLF is finally getting its day
in court in a trial under way in a Dallas courthouse.
The government's trial brief argues that HLF made
donations to 12 Israeli-licensed, Palestinian
charities that were allegedly "associated" with Hamas.
However, the U.S. government has not identified these
Palestinian charities as supporting terrorism or
banned them from receiving American donations.
In an unusual (and some would say un-American) move,
prosecutors publicly named 307 individuals and
organizations as "unindicted co-conspirators" (UCCs)
relating to the HLF case.
Among those listed are three major American Muslim
organizations: the Islamic Society of North America,
the North American Islamic Trust and the Council on
American-Islamic Relations. Collectively, these groups
represent the interests and viewpoints of the
mainstream American Muslim community.
Listing a person or group as a UCC is not a legal
designation of wrongdoing on the part of those named.
The UCC designation allows for an exception to the
hearsay rule making "co-conspirator" statements
admissible during trial.
This practice, in which the named parties have no
legal recourse, is controversial and seemingly
un-American. Professor Ira P. Robbins of American
University recently wrote in the Federal Courts Law
"[The] practice of naming individuals as unindicted
co-conspirators ... appears to be an anomaly in United
States law, in that it violates the Fifth Amendment
guarantee that no person shall ... be deprived of
life, liberty, or property, without due process of
Three federal prosecutors who were asked by the Los
Angeles Times about the practice of publicly naming
unindicted co-conspirators called it "improper" and
This McCarthyite political move violates the Justice
Department's own guidelines, which indicate that such
lists are to remain sealed to prevent the unfair and
un-American labeling of those who are not facing any
The Justice Department's manual for prosecutors says,
"In all public filings and proceedings, federal
prosecutors should remain sensitive to the privacy and
reputation interests of uncharged third-parties." The
guidelines further state that when co-conspirator
lists have to be filed in court, prosecutors should
seek to do so under seal
Given the growing fear of Islam and Muslims among the
American public (one in four admit to being prejudiced
against Muslims), it has become easy to smear Islamic
organizations. Without legal recourse to challenge
such smears, the constitutional rights of American
Muslims are damaged by guilt by association and guilt
by mere accusation. This effectively puts a chill on
the First Amendment rights of these Americans.
It is our duty as Americans to demand that the due
process rights of all citizens be preserved and
protected. At a time when most experts are
recommending the strengthening of American Muslim
institutions to serve as bridges of understanding
between America and the Muslim world, the smearing of
these institutions undermines the very cause that
ought to unite us as Americans.
"Liberty and justice for all" cannot be a mere slogan.
In order to reclaim our global leadership, America
must work with its Muslim citizens to prevent the
downward spiral of misunderstanding and hostility that
threatens to engulf our world.
Parvez Ahmed is the chairman of the board for the
Council on American-Islamic Relations. He is also an
associate professor at the University of North
Safety still a struggle for faithful
One leader says preparation helps defend against hate
groups; others want worshippers to feel welcome
By Rebecca Rosen Lum
TIMES STAFF WRITER
Article Launched: 08/15/2007 03:04:25 AM PDT
An arson fire that gutted an Antioch mosque Sunday has
turned a spotlight on the conundrum for religious
institutions on the political fault line: how to repel
intruders while welcoming worshippers.
"That is what I'm having so much trouble explaining to
my son right now," said Abdul Rahman, chairman of
Islamic Center of the East Bay, the torched mosque. "I
try to tell him there are good and bad people."
But many religious leaders say that preparing too
diligently for the bad weakens what the faithful seek.
"This is a place of worship. You want to come in at 4
in the morning and pray, you can pray," said Dian
Alyan, spokesperson for Santa Clara Muslim Community
Association, the Bay Area's largest mosque.
Yet representatives of many mosques, synagogues and
Sikh temples say they have struck a balance between
neighborliness and security.
The comfort comes in knowing that very few people
intend to harm them, said Amer Siddiqee of American
Muslims Intent on Learning and Activism.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,
Siddiqee's neighbors in Santa Clara asked whether they
could shop or perform other errands for him so he
would not suffer from others' misguided rage.
"We feel really blessed," he said. Nonetheless, his
mosque has a security system.
"Generally, religious institutions have not been the
best on concentrating on security issues," said
Jonathan Bernstein, head of the Anti-Defamation League
Central Pacific Region. "They are busy communicating
other kinds of messages."
Bernstein headed the agency when a two white
supremacist brothers firebombed three Sacramento area
In the aftermath, the league produced a comprehensive
manual to help religious agencies guard against
"If someone comes into your mosque or temple, (and)
that person is not familiar to you, do you ignore it,
or do you go up and say 'hi,' ask if they need help?
That's great security right there," Bernstein said.
Confusing Sikhs with the Taliban, assailants tried to
firebomb a Stockton temple after Sept. 11, said J.P.
Singh, president of the Sikh Center of the Bay Area in
"The FBI said the only way to catch these guys is by
having surveillance cameras." The El Sobrante temple
keeps people on its premises 24 hours a day, Singh
Religious institutions will forever grapple with these
issues, said a lawmaker who was on a hit list the two
supremacist brothers prepared.
"We never have the luxury of believing our work in
this area is ever done," said state Sen. Darrell
"People should not be scared," said Amer Araim of the
San Ramon Valley Islamic Center. "I hope the community
will have solidarity. We have trust in law and order."
As the religious communities reacted the Antioch crime
Tuesday, Contra Costa Fire investigators and FBI
agents again met with leaders of the Islamic Center of
the East Bay but had nothing new to report, Rahman
In the meantime, the mosque leaders and Antioch
officials are trying to find an alternative worship
Rahman was optimistic they would find a place in time
for Friday prayers, even if it meant holding services
under a tent in the parking lot of the burned-out
Members hope to remain in Antioch, Rahman said.
Antioch resident Faisal Rehman, 17, said he wishes the
arsonist would experience something other than arrest,
trial and punishment.
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," he
said. "I'd just like ... for his intentions to be
Staff writer Cassandra Braun contributed to this
story. Reach Rebecca Rosen Lum at
how To help
Friends have established a fund to aid in the
rebuilding of the mosque. Contributions may be made to
the Islamic Center of the East Bay, Account No.
10683-04586, Bank of America.
Offers for volunteering and other assistance may be
e-mailed to mowmin@...
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