Muslim Americans Plead For Understanding In Wake Of Hate Crimes

Americans harassed and Mosques attacked; Muhammad Ali calls Islam 'religion of peace.'

As America recovers from Tuesday's terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., emotions are running high as the country mourns the dead and missing.

Some of the feelings of fear and anger inspired by the terrorists, who government officials have said are associated with the Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, have been unleashed on our own. Muslim and Arab-American citizens across the country have been harassed and mosques have been vandalized in recent days.

Aly R. Abuzaakouk, executive director of the American Muslim Council, said his organization has received calls recently from many hate-crime victims recounting harrowing experiences. Rather than attack the innocent, Abuzaakouk suggested the perpetrators use their energy to honor those lost in the tragedy.

"I assure you that the American Muslims feel the pain and suffering of our fellow citizens," Abuzaakouk said. "We are all in a state of shock from the calamity and tragedy. We call upon our fellow American citizens to show restraint to Muslims and Arabs, because they were also affected."

"A lot of people are really scared and concerned right now," Nabeel Cheema, 20, said on Thursday at New York's Columbia University, where he is a student. Cheema said his mother is too scared to even go to the grocery store because Muslims in her neighborhood have been attacked.

"Some Americans think all Muslim Americans are terrorists or, even more dangerous, that we're unthinking, fanatical or have some secret alliance against them," Cheema said. "I hope people understand there is no you-versus-us."

"When people hear the word 'terrorist,' they think first of Islam, which equals Muslims, which equals all Muslims," said Zehra Mandani, 20, who said she has been harassed recently. "I'm afraid it will be a bigger backlash than what we've seen."

Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, a Muslim, released a statement Thursday to educate non-Muslim Americans about his religion and its followers.

"Islam is a religion of peace," Ali said in the statement. "Islam does not promote terrorism or the killing of people. I cannot sit by and let the world think that Islam is a killing religion. These radicals are doing things that God is against. If the culprits are Muslim, they have twisted the teachings of Islam."

Political leaders including President Bush and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani have denounced the attacks. Abuzaakouk said Muslim mosques will be open today despite incidents involving broken windows and spray paint.

"Many mosques were afraid to open on Friday, but we encouraged it," Abuzaakouk said. "Especially since we have designated this Friday a Muslim day of prayers for victims of the tragedies."

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