Wednesday, September 28, 2022

“9/11 Changed Everything Forever”: Colorado Muslims Reflect on 20 Years of Prejudice

A few days after September 11, 2001, a man walked into a Wiggins convenience store owned by Muatsem Ibrahim and began making derogatory remarks about Islam and Muslims.

The gas station just outside Fort Morgan sold knives and imaginary swords, and the man told Ibrahim he wanted to buy three of them. Ibrahim refused the sale, which further irritated the man. Ibrahim’s 6-year-old daughter and wife were looking into the security camera in a back room, though they could not hear what was happening.

Ibrahim said, “Someone in the restaurant (next door) told him that I am a Muslim.” “That’s why he’s here.”

Another customer told Ibrahim that he had called the authorities about the angry man, and before anything else could happen, the police arrived.

Many American Muslims in Colorado experienced that type of hostility and Islamophobia after 9/11, particularly the attacks by Muslim extremists in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania soon after and the American wars with Afghanistan and Iraq. .

Coloradans shared stories with posts about being bullied at school, or being expected to relentlessly condemn those behind the attacks, regardless of how angry and sad they were. Women wearing hijab were considered oppressed. Some feared that the government was secretly monitoring their mosques or wondered if their acquaintances were informers.

Much has changed in the US and Colorado in the two decades since the attacks, but one thing is certain: 9/11 focused on Muslims in the United States. This prompted Muslim communities in Colorado to educate the public about their religion and to back their own narratives against prejudice and to better define who they are. They are still doing that outreach today, and while it has helped more Muslims join public and policy-driven roles, some members of the religion say the animosity has not gone away.

A Pew Research Center report from this month noted that the Muslim population in the US increased by 1.1 million between 2007 and 2017 and has received “unprecedented public attention” after September 11, adding that “much of American Islam” Or know very little about Muslims, and views towards Muslims have become increasingly polarized on political grounds.” Muslims made up about 1.1% of the US population in 2017, the latest data available. In Colorado, according to History Colorado, more than 70,000 people identify as part of the faith community.

“a wake up call”

Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali of the Northeast Denver Islamic Center believes that before 9/11 Muslims were gaining more acceptance, especially in Denver, with a “live and let live” attitude. He said that black Muslims have been sharing information about Islam with various interreligious groups for decades.

Then came 9/11. His mosque and its members became a target, adding to the struggles already faced by black people in the United States.

“For African American Muslims, it’s like building a tag team. …It is like taking a double dose of hatred,” he said.

In addition to fears of civil rights cuts, Ali said, he saw Muslims engaging in the immigration system. There were also long waits for visas and citizenship due to security concerns and additional checks at airports. International students from local universities began to return to their home countries.

Shafi Abdul Aziz, the imam of the Islamic Outreach Center in Denver, said Denver and other Muslim communities across the country began to realize that they needed a larger public presence, too. More mosques began to host open houses, with Muslim groups and leaders affiliated with other religions giving presentations at schools and conventions.

“It was a wakeup call,” Abdul Aziz said. “God was sending a message that Muslims … (you should) introduce who you are to the people.”

Hyong Chang, The Denver Post

Imam Shafi Abdulaziz leads a Friday sermon at the Islamic Outreach Center of Colorado on August 27, 2021 in Denver, Colorado.

Safa Alem was living in New Jersey during 9/11 and recalls a mix of emotions: sadness for those who lost their lives and anger at those who claimed to share their religion but terrorized people.

She decided to take every opportunity to honor the lives lost and to teach people about the faith she believes was misrepresented. She led an open house program at her local mosque where anyone could come and ask questions about Islam. She participates in vigils and events mourning the victims who died on September 11, 2001.

“Let’s take that power and energy and turn it into a positive,” said Elem, who moved to Denver in 2011. “I need to reach out more to let people know who we are. I need to teach my kids that this is your country, this is you. Maintain your identity, your religion.”

a new way

Colorado State Representative Iman Jodeh was a student at the University of Denver when the attacks took place. She watched the footage on TV with her mother and brother in shock. They knew that their life would never be the same again.

“9/11 changed everything forever,” she said.

Jodeh’s mother, who wears a hijab (or head scarf), refrains from going out for a while. Jodeh’s family received so many threatening calls and letters to the Colorado Muslim Society that they had to increase their police presence during services. At one point, attendees found a pig’s head at the gate.

About September 11, she said, “That’s where my life turned.” “As a sophomore,[my major]was not declared. … It happened and two weeks later I was declared[in political science].

Jodeh’s brother-in-law, Kamel Elvazier, was in his mid-20s on September 11, 2001, working at a dot-com company in Colorado Springs. A few days later, the company closed its doors. On the day of the attacks, Elvazir recalls how his colleagues and friends stopped talking to him as Fox News stayed in the conference room.

Despite all this, Elvazir dismissed the fear that had gripped some others in his small Muslim community. He kept going to the mosque. He kept his beard.

“We have to live our lives,” he said. “You can’t stop or hide or just stay in the houses for fear that we’re going to be a target.”

And Ibrahim, who still runs the gas station in Wiggins, sat down with his children and told them he had a choice: they could either hide their identities as Muslims and Arabs, or they could be proud that Who are those American Muslims and are committed to educating their communities.

Following the lead of her parents, Nadine Ibrahim, now 26 and a community worker in the Denver area, chose the latter.

"9/11 Changed Everything Forever": Colorado Muslims Reflect on 20 Years of Prejudice

Eli Imadli / Exclusive to the Denver Post

Nadine Ibrahim speaks during a rally for solidarity with Palestinians organized by ACT for Palestine at the Colorado State Capitol on Saturday, May 22, 2021 in Denver.

two decades later

In moments, Ibrahim said that Muslims seemed to have made a lot of progress – such as the election of Jodeh, the first Muslim woman, to the state legislature. When the Fort Collins mosque was ransacked or attacked by extremists in 2017, Coloradans often stood behind their Muslim neighbors when faced with threats. People are more willing to have difficult conversations, she said.

Ali, who lived in Denver for 31 years after moving from Chicago, also sees it.

“You see more Muslims in the media, you see more Muslims in entertainment and sports,” Ali said. “And now the media does not infer that (every) terrorist act was committed by a Muslim,” as was incorrectly reported about the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings, he said.

But, Ali said, “it’s still a struggle.”

Ibrahim said hateful rhetoric towards followers of Islam was revived after former President Donald Trump proposed a Muslim registry early in his term and in 2017 barred migrants from several majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. A ban was put in place to stop.

Even before Trump’s election, between 2015 and 2016, FBI data shows that hate crimes against Muslims in the United States almost doubled from 2001 levels. They went down in 2017, although advocacy groups say large numbers are not reported.

Strong ties between Muslims and their neighbors – whether through the efforts of mosques or just personal ties – help counter some of the rhetoric, Ibrahim said. But he believes the real key to ending discrimination is instituting new hate-crime policies at the state and federal level and not allowing something like the Patriot Act, which has opened the door to persecution of Muslim communities. .

To take their concerns more seriously, Colorado’s Muslim communities believe that more Muslims should be elected to office or engage in public careers. Jodeh pointed to the election of the first two Muslim women – Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – to Congress in 2018 – saying she didn’t think it could happen 20 years ago and that it was a direct result of the foundation that supports immigrants and refugees. had kept for his American. Children.

Jodeh himself is at the forefront of state law, which calls for more public aid for immigrants and refugees, including the creation of Colorado’s Office of New Americans.

"9/11 Changed Everything Forever": Colorado Muslims Reflect on 20 Years of Prejudice
Aurora Democratic Rep. Iman Jodeh, Colorado’s first Muslim Palestinian US lawmaker, speaks during a rally in solidarity with Palestinians organized by ACT for Palestine at the State Capitol in Denver, Saturday, May 22, 2021.

“I look forward to seeing the things that I do, that other people are doing …

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