2016-06-30
FORT WORTH, Texas--Sharmina Badruzzaman busily prepared for dinner one recent evening, putting place mats and dishes of rice, breaded shrimp, cauliflower and chicken wings on the table.

Her daughter, Anisha, 10, sat at the table plucking pomegranate seeds from a blue plastic bowl. In another room, her son Sayed, 16, ate chicken wings while watching television.

"We're just like anybody else," said Sharmina, who speaks animatedly and seems to always be smiling.

Life for the Muslim family bumped along normally until deadly terrorist attacks tore through the soul of America and the world Sept. 11. Since then, the Badruzzamans and many of their Muslim friends have felt the brunt of anti-Islamic sentiment. The attacks on area mosques and possible hate crimes have been well publicized. But the stares, comments and obscene gestures that are becoming a part of their everyday lives aren't as well known.

Mohammed and Sharmina Badruzzaman, who are naturalized citizens, have been in the United States for 20 years. They came to Texas from Bangladesh when Mohammed enrolled at Texas A&I University in Kingsville. While there, he earned an MBA, and Sharmina gave birth to Sayed. They moved to Fort Worth, where Mohammed owns a business. Their daughters, Anisha and Ameera, now 3, were born in Fort Worth.

"We've been here more than half of our life, and our children's whole life has been here," Mohammed said. "To me, this is our home, but right now our feelings hurt so much we don't feel like this is our home."

As the family sat down to dinner at the kitchen table one evening last week, Mohammed slowly began a historical trek through the region of his youth: the India-Pakistan war of 1971, the eternal clash over the highly fertile land of Kashmir, the significance of the prophets Mohammed and Jesus Christ in the religion of Islam, and the religious restrictions put on Muslims in many countries.

They worry that the religious freedom they have enjoyed in Fort Worth is at stake. They fear that if the perpetrators aren't brought to swift justice, Muslims will become place-markers for a faceless enemy.

"It's going to get worse and worse," Mohammed said. "We've been paying our tax every year, we've been doing everything we can to improve our life and this country's economy, and right now I'm thinking 'Where do we go now?'"

* * *

Anisha is waiting under a tree at Morningside Elementary School in south Fort Worth. Her mother is running a few minutes late. When the family van arrives shortly after 3 p.m., she bounds up to it.

On the way home, Anisha, who sports wire-rimmed glasses and a toothy grin, flips through pamphlets of chocolates, candles, picture frames and other items she'll try to sell as part of a school fund- raiser. Ameera talks and yells loudly.

"Do you have any homework, Anisha?" Sharmina asks. After a long pause, Anisha replies, "Yeah."

It's an exchange like thousands of others between parent and child at the end of the school day. But life for Sharmina has been very different since the attacks. The only time she leaves the house without her husband is to pick up Anisha or son Sayed from Dunbar High School. She has curtailed most activities, including grocery shopping.

"I feel I've been cheated of my life," she said. "This time it's a fear for your life. This time the looks have changed."

That afternoon as she drove to Morningside, a driver in a white pickup made an obscene gesture. The day before, it happened twice. She has been followed by vehicles and stared down in the grocery store where she always shops. As a dark-skinned Bangladeshi, she is used to shades of racism, but this is much worse.

Still, she continues to wear her head wrap, called a hijad, the distinct, outward mark of a Muslim woman. Taking it off would be giving in to public humiliation, she said, and besides, it's a sin for a woman of childbearing age to go around uncovered.

"It's more than a religion, it's our culture," she said.

* * *

Muslims pray five times a day, and they always face Mecca--the holy core of Islam in Saudi Arabia. Living in a busy city like Fort Worth is no excuse for not following the rules. So every night, the Badruzzaman family finishes dinner and prepares to go pray.

At 7:30 p.m. on a recent evening, Sharmina rounded up the children, calling out to them in her native language of Bangla to get ready. Anisha, dressed in a pink shirt and pink flowered skirt, gets a pink scarf from her room to wear while she prays.

"We like to match," Sharmina said with a laugh and a smile.

In the dying light of the day, the family piled into their white Toyota and headed to the mosque at the Islamic Association of Tarrant County. A block away from the building, a Fort Worth police car was parked, the officer waiting and watching.

Mohammed said he and Tarrant County Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani recently met with Fort Worth Police Chief Ralph Mendoza, who agreed to provide round-the-clock security at area mosques. The patrols seem to have helped. Tuesday night, for example, the mosque received a phone call from someone at a convenience store who said the mosque would be attacked that night, but nothing happened.

Still, the experience was unnerving.

"We prayed quickly, and then we took off," Mohammed said.

Entering the mosque, the family members removed their shoes and placed them in slots off the entryway. In the main prayer room, covered with green carpet, half a dozen men knelt so low their foreheads touched the ground as they mouthed invocations to Allah.

The walls of the mosque are bare. Muslims believe this keeps them focused on Allah, not on individuals.

"We don't want people to worship others, so we don't hang any pictures in the mosque, not even of our prophet" Mohammed, said Iman Bakhash, the wife of the Imam Moujahed Bakhash, the mosque's leader.

The mosque is a haven, the one place where they can escape the barrage of news media coverage. The Badruzzamans said it has been difficult in a world where much of the news coverage has focused on people of Middle Eastern or Muslim background as suspects in the attacks.

Khan, al-Hallak, Mohammed, Saeed--the names are becoming familiar on television and in newspaper reports. That leads people to lump all Muslims together, Mohammed said.

There are bright spots in the coverage, though. Recent footage on CNN, for example, that showed Bush visiting a mosque in Washington, D.C., was heartening for Muslims all across the country, Sharmina said.

"I felt so good" seeing that, she said.

Although the attack has been painted as a portrait of white America's suffering, many nations lost citizens in the attack, including up to 50 people from Bangladesh, Sharmina said. Authorities believe that people from more than 50 nations are among the missing and dead.

"Everyone is victimized," she said.

The Badruzzamans don't know who committed these abhorrent acts, so for now, they are watching the news unfold just like everybody else. But they know one thing: If it is Osama bin Laden, he has ruined their lives, too.

"He's no brother of mine," Sharmina said. "That's for sure."

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