HUNTINGTON — While Americans who practice the Islam faith are still fighting bias and Islamophobia two decades after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, they find hope through education, community involvement and patience.
While all Americans now live in the post-Sept. 11 era, the reality of the era is different for Muslims, who have lived under a shadow for 20 years and faced hostility and surveillance, mistrust and suspicion, questions about their faith and doubts over their Americanness.
Through that, they have found a way to fight in crafting their own identities by building bridges and challenging the stereotypes they face.
“There is this sense of being Muslim as a kind of important identity marker, regardless of your relationship with Islam as a faith,” Eman Abdelhadi, a sociologist at The University of Chicago who studies Muslim communities, told The Associated Press. “That’s been one of the main effects in people’s lives … it has shaped the ways the community has developed.”
Majed Khader, professor and director of Morrow Library at Marshall University, said when the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, started, he was in a meeting at Marshall when one of the attendees told the group what was going on.
Khader said the treatment from the non-Muslim community to him and other American Muslims varied afterward. Mostly, he saw concern for their safety. Those from other religions came to show support during prayer sessions or would send flowers.
“A few were probably confused, and many showed no changed behavior other than being careful around us and how to react toward us,” he said. “A very small number of people showed some kind of hostility, not to me, but I heard a few Muslims saying so.”
He said Islamophobia, xenophobia, intolerance, negative remarks, vandalism and, in some circumstances, hate crimes against Muslims are among what some American Muslims suffered, and still suffer 20 years later.
A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted ahead of the 9/11 anniversary found that 53% of Americans have unfavorable views toward Islam, compared with 42% who have favorable ones. This stands in contrast to Americans’ opinions about Christianity and Judaism, for which most respondents expressed favorable views, the AP said.
Mistrust and suspicion of Muslims didn’t start with 9/11, but the attacks intensified those animosities.
“We are also concerned about our safety, especially during congregational gatherings; we have had to add some financial burdens to ourselves by hiring security and police officers to guard and protect our places of worship while we worship,” Kader said.
In a 2017 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Muslims, nearly half of respondents said they experienced at least one instance of religious discrimination within the year before; yet 49% said someone expressed support for them because of their religion in the previous year.
Overwhelmingly, the study found respondents proud to be both Muslim and American. For some, there were occasional identity crises growing up, the AP said.
The Muslim community does not differ from other religions when it comes to love for their country. They feel it’s their duty to fight, such as in armed forces, for their freedoms like other Americans, Khader said.
Khader agreed personal connections, interaction and education are crucial to gaining ground in the fight against Islamophobia.
“American Muslims and Muslim organizations actively work to reflect the peaceful and true nature of Islam,” he said. “Education, volunteering, donations of varying natures, financial contributions are among the many activities we incorporate into our everyday lives to reflect our loyalty as American Muslims to our beloved adopted country and fellow American citizens.”
Through his career at Marshall, Khader has been able to push forward on the education front, whether it be through newspaper articles, guest speaking or community involvement as a whole since the early 1990s. He speaks about Islam at churches, civic clubs, classrooms and more, and he and others from the local Muslim community volunteer and give back.
The non-Muslim community could help by being educated, he said.
“Education, education, education. Reach out to Muslims you see and be open-minded to their opinions and lifestyles,” he said. “Get to personally know the Muslims around you, and you will quickly see that they are not much different from you.”