In front of her mosque on 14th Street, two police officers stood guard. Before Sept. 11, security was not an issue at Al-Farooq Masjid. Since the attacks, though, "there has been a tremendous backlash against the Muslim community in America, said Dr. Khalid Siddiqi, director of Al-Farooq Masjid.
Last Wednesday, an Atlanta man from Sudan was attacked by a group of vengeful men carrying knives. The victim escaped with only a sliced shirt. Three days later, an Indian man was shot and killed at an Arizona gas station. In both cases, the victims were neither Arab nor Muslim.
In the four days that followed the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, more than 300 complaints of attacks on Muslims in America reached the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C. Unreported are the snide comments, the suspicious glances, the chasm of misunderstanding that separates most Americans from even a cursory understanding of Islam.
"We're looking at an entire culture and an entire religion, and most of us don't have the sophistication to know who's our enemy and who's our friend, says Dr. Dona J. Stewart, associate director of Georgia State's Center for Middle East Peace, Culture and Development.
The resulting irony is that the very nation that was settled by immigrants fleeing religious persecution is now, in some cases, attacking an entire religion because of the murderous actions of a few.
As Siqqidi explained to his congregation, "The problem is the lack of knowledge of Islam. Certainly, the media is responsible for some of that ignorance. Dispatches from the Middle East dwell on the violence there, and thus much of America's association with Islam is a negative one. Introduce a player like Osama bin Laden, who perverts Islam to his own evil ends, and the religion's public face is even more bloodied.
Last week's tragedy, though, has given the media opportunity to make amends. At no other time will America be more interested in learning about Islam and the billion people who practice it. How well the media tells that story, and how well our government reinforces the message that our war is not against Islam but against terrorists, will go a long way toward answering a question posed by Stewart: "Are we really as great as we think we are?
-- Steve Fennessy and Mara Shalhoup