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9/11 Changes Columbus Muslims; Hope For More Acceptance
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The days after September 11th were difficult ones for Central Ohio Muslims and ten years later Muslims continue to struggle with acceptance within the Columbus community. WOSU examines Central Ohio’s Muslim community and the changes it has experienced during the past decade.
Asma Mobin-Uddin smiles as she enters the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Hilliard. She’s dressed conservatively, but her extended arm reveals an intricate pattern of henna that swirls across the top of her hand, applied temporarily for the end of Ramadan.
Mobin-Uddin is American and grew up in Ohio. She’s a past-president of Ohio’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Mobin-Uddin said she always felt the definition of America included her. Then 19 hijackers, in the name of Islam – her faith, changed all of that.
“After the attacks of September 11 I felt like a stranger in my own land. It felt like I was the same person, there wasn’t anything different about me. I walked out of the house one day, walked back into my same house, and yet I felt more of that suspicion, that distrust, or just that somehow things had changed,” Mobin-Uddin said.
And they had changed. A mistrust of Muslims grew among many non-Muslim Americans. In the months following the terrorist attacks, Muslims across the country were assaulted, even murdered, their businesses set ablaze. In Columbus, a mosque and school on East Broad Street were ransacked and vandalized in December 2001.
Mobin-Uddin said the Muslim community at first understood the hostility.
“It was bad initially, and I think that was to be expected. And I think people expected that. But we had no way of knowing that the hostility and the negativity could continue so long in a country as educated and as diverse as America. And I think that’s what caught me by surprise,” she noted.
During the past ten years, Columbus Muslims have tried to combat the twisted views of the 9-11 terrorists.
“Our goal is to have a stronger voice than theirs,” said Adnan Mirza who directs media relations for the Noor Islamic Cultural Center.
“We’ve taken a very active approach to working with the interfaith community to building bridges, to speak with like-minded organizations, churches, synagogues and entities so we can create this dialogue and let people know what we are about, what we believe,” Mirza said.
But just last year, a Muslim-owned market in Columbus was robbed and vandalized; the numbers “9-11” spray-painted on windows and counter tops.
Mobin-Uddin saID it’s difficult to gauge whether their outreach efforts are effective at reaching those who do not understand Islam. Typically, she saID, the only people who attend an informative program at mosques are those who feel comfortable enough.
“In terms of people who maybe have not felt the need to learn more, the ‘I learned everything I need to know about Islam on September 11’ type of approach, which we do see…we still hope that maybe through personal interactions, just being kind or meet a colleague or meet somebody who could at least break down some of those barriers,” Mobin-Uddin said.
Tarunjit Butalia is president of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio. He remembered the organization took flak for a program it hosted on Islam at the capitol shortly after 9-11.
“We had folks calling the statehouse saying Hamas is in the house, as if all Muslims were one,” Butalia recalled.
Butalia, though, said he sees a growing understanding of Islam in Central Ohio. Since September 11, he said there are more non-Muslims attending Iftars – an evening meal during Ramadam – than ever before.
“I think that’s the community building we are talking about. Those of us who think that somehow we can continue to make Muslims feel unwelcome in our society I think will fail,” he said.
Despite the burden of on-going prejudice and negative rhetoric, the Pew Research Center finds American Muslims are overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives. But it reports they feel life is more difficult for them now post-9-11.
Mirza said he fears what would happen to the community if there were another attack.
“Being a Muslim, the first think that I know I think of to myself is, and pray that, ‘Oh, God, I hope it’s not a Muslim doing that’ because it seems like every few steps we take forward there’s always something that kind of brings us back a step or two,” Mirza said.
But Mobin-Uddin said she sees the Muslim community emerging stronger from what she calls the “trial of September 11.” For Mobin-Uddin, she’s emerged a kinder person.
“I realize when somebody feels vulnerable or somebody feels alone or somebody feels like they don’t have a friend, that simple smile, that simple kind gesture can really change somebody’s day and make a difference,” she noted.