Muslims tread carefully around proposed mosque near ground zero

As public opposition to the proposed mosque near ground zero grows and Sept. 11 approaches, Muslims are preparing for anti-Islamic acts, encouraging adherents to participate in 9/11 remembrance ceremonies, and changing how they celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
Sana Alamdar, left, Ailya Jafri, center, and Zainab Hussani, right, break their Ramadan fast at sunset at the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center in Jamaica, NY on August 19, 2010. The Shi'a center is predominately attended by Americans of Pakistani decent.

American Muslims are treading carefully through the political minefield surrounding the proposed Islamic center near ground zero in New York – issuing warnings but not wanting to overreact to a recent series of desecrations and vandalism at mosques around the country, encouraging adherents to participate in a “9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance,” and changing plans for celebrating the end of Ramadan.

As the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, approaches the caution may be justified.

Acts of vandalism – which law enforcement officials are investigating as hate crimes – have been directed at mosques in Madera, Calif., Murfreesboro, Tenn., and other places around the country. Remnants of a pipe bomb were found at a mosque in Jacksonville, Fla. Playground equipment was burned and vulgar graffiti found at the Dar El-Eman Islamic Education Center, in South Arlington, Tex.

In Gainesville, Fla., the pastor of the “Dove World Outreach Center,” a small fundamentalist church, has announced that he will burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11 – a provocative event that has been criticized by the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

In a cover piece in The Christian Science Monitor weekly magazine, Harry Brunius describes a “vortex of discord sweeping over the country [which] has exposed a deep-seated mistrust, if not outright phobia, of Muslims trying to establish a place in America.”

“There is no more symbolically loaded space in America today than ground zero,” University of Richmond religious scholar Douglas Hicks told Brunius. “Then you mix in religion, and the 'T' word – terrorism – and you get this explosive, unholy mix.”

In response, Muslim congregations around the country are changing plans for the typical three-day festivities at the end of the holy month of Ramadan – which is likened to Christmas for Christians and which happens to fall on Sept. 11 this year.

The Islamic Circle of North America rescheduled its annual “Muslim Family Days” at Six Flags amusement parks, and the Islamic Cultural Center in Fresno, Calif., canceled its post-Ramadan carnival, which typically includes games, pony rides for kids, and Middle Eastern food.

“We thought it might be misunderstood and create a wave of attacks on our faith and community,” Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini, the cultural center’s religious leader, told the Los Angeles Times.

Following recent attacks and an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) issued a “precaution advisory” to members of the Arab, Muslim, South Asian and Sikh-American communities.

Among other things, it advises places of worship to have “an emergency plan that can be implemented should the need arise,” lists FBI field offices to report incidents, and urges parents to report incidents of bullying or harassment at schools.

This past week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced a national public service announcement campaign featuring Muslims who were first responders during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and “designed to challenge the growing anti-Muslim bigotry sparked by opposition to the planned Park51 [Islamic center] project in Manhattan.”

“The stepped-up rhetorical and physical attacks on the American Muslim community and Islam require a positive, proactive response that will help counter the almost hysterical campaign of misinformation by a vocal minority of bigots,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “These public service announcements have the potential to reach millions of Americans with a message of religious inclusion and mutual understanding.”

Last month, CAIR issued an online “Teachable Moment Community Response Guide” to help Muslims organize local education and outreach initiatives tied to events such as a “National Day of Unity and Healing” on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

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