The Local Muslim Community Reflects On 9/11 (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio


The Local Muslim Community Reflects on 9/11


In the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks, Muslims in Northern Virginia have been under intense scrutiny from federal law enforcement and the national media. And that attention has forced Muslim groups to evolve and adapt. Virginia reporter, Jonathan Wilson, takes us inside this community to see how local Muslim's lives have changed and how their approaching the upcoming anniversary of 9/11.


Dar al-Hijrah in Falls Church, Va. is the largest mosque in the D.C. area and one of the largest in the country. Imam Johari Abdul-Malik says even before 9/11, Dar al-Hijrah was a microcosm of Muslim cultures across the globe.


There are about 37 different languages spoken here. So anything that happens in the countries of Muslim majority, I don't want to call them the Muslim world, there's a connection here at this mosque.


And in the past decade, Abdul-Malik has had to explain exactly what those connections are. Many people want to know about Dar al-Hijrah's former Imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual Yemeni and American citizen who left the U.S. in 2002 and has since been linked to several terror plots.


Abdul-Malik doesn't shy away from discussing the controversies where he feels he can provide clarification and teach people about his religion. His face has become a familiar one on cable talk shows. He says 9/11 forced Dar al-Hijrah and other Muslim communities to move beyond an introspective stance. He points to the expansion of the mosques charitable efforts.


After September 11th, it became apparent that it didn't really meet the standards of Islam, that, Ta'am al Miskeen to feed the indigent person. It never qualified them to be Muslim, but now in the post 9/11 reality, it had to be feeding people who are of other faiths.


Aziz Abu-Sarah, co-executive director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, says the post 9/11 scrutiny has been detrimental to Muslim communities. He says local mosques have lost a warmth and an openness.


Nowadays, there's a lot of fear of people who come and say I'm interested to study Islam because often, it's a fear that this person is an informant, he's coming to spy in the mosque, he's coming to get information. And so it's making this fear that, even within the mosque, there's somebody spying on me all the time.


Abu-Sarah says If you need a recent example of continuing community unease with Muslims here in Northern Virginia, you only have to look as far as the opposition face by Fairfax's Islamic Saudi Academy. When it wanted to expand in 2009, there was vehement community push-back, though the county's board of supervisor's ultimately approved the project in a close vote. Abu-Sarah feels a conservative Christian or Jewish school would not have faced the same obstacles.


That's the way a lot -- I think of people in Northern Virginia, lot of Muslim's in Northern Virginia, feel today that we are targeted, we are mistrusted and therefore they're also mistrust the community.


According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Muslim Americans say life has gotten more difficult since 9/11, 53 percent said the same in 2007. But 79 percent of Muslim Americans rate their communities as positive places to live. Adnan Ansari agrees, that on the community level, things are headed in the right direction. He's the vice President of programs for Islamic Relief USA, headquartered in Alexandria, Va.


Ansari says immediately after 9/11, some Muslim groups were asked to prove a negative, that they were not tied to terrorism. But he says those questions died down quickly. And he and his wife find things are better at the neighborhood level than they've ever been.


We live in Sterling. Whenever we are out of town, we hand over the keys to our neighbor and she's Catholic, you know, so as a couple, there's no problem in any way.


Back at Dar al-Hijrah, Sabahat Adil is rounding up her staff to serve Iftar to the women at the mosque. Iftar is the evening meal with which Muslims break their daily fast during the month of Ramadan. Adil directs the mosque's social services outreach and is very clearly a, sort of, mother figure to women here.


Sister, he's too big, he's hiding. I can see him, sweetie, you got to get out of there.


Her hair covered with a shimmering white patterned head scarf. She says, her relationships with her non-Muslim friends, neighbors and even strangers are as tension free as ever.


I feel it has gotten better, definitely. I don't feel anybody is targeting me at this point because I'm a Muslim, I do wear scarf. So it's all good.


And as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Adil says things aren't perfect, but local Muslims have a choice, seeing the glass as half-empty or half full. She's choosing the latter. I'm Jonathan Wilson.
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