In the suburbs of St. Louis, in neighborhoods near the nation's capital and all across the country, Muslim-Americans continue to exercise their freedom of worship, practicing the faith they have chosen. But Muslim Americans, like Dr. Hashim Raza, a physician in St. Louis, and like Mohamed Elrefai, a Virginia executive, say these days they must not only defend their faith, but their citizenship, as well. "The Muslim experience and the American experience are the same," Elrefai said.
But to some, that changed after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "All of a sudden, our religion and our faith have been in the public spotlight," Raza said, "and we hear things that are simply not true." Specifically, they say they hear that Islam is a violent religion, a view that created an ugly backlash against many Muslim Americans since that morning when Muslim terrorists did such murderous damage. "I was really horrified by it," Elrefai said, "but I never had any sort of personal concern."
Then the mosque Elrefai attends, near Washington, was attacked. "At that moment, I think I sort of fully felt the weight of what had happened," he said. "It had the potential to change our lives."
The Justice Department reports 350 similar hate crimes this past year. During that same period, virtually all of the 1,100 people detained by the FBI were Muslims. Most were released, and none was charged with a crime related to 9/11.
And yet, a year later, the suspicions linger. And even filter down to Elrefai's son. "He sees things on the news and he says, you know, 'Why?' says Beth Elrefai, Mohamed's wife. "'Why are they fighting Muslims?' You know? 'Muslims aren't bad people.'"
The Raza children's Islamic school was closed after telephone threats. Raza's wife, Asma, is angry, but only at the terrorists. "They've hijacked our religion," she said. "They have no right to do that. We're just here picking up the pieces now."
And trying to lead the normal lives they once lived, working at their jobs and raising their families. "It's our job as Muslims, particularly here in America, to take the religion back," Hashim Raza said, "to take it back to where it is, which is a voice of moderation."