Archive for Saturday, September 15, 2001

Muslims wary of hostility

September 15, 2001

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— Instead of pointing fingers, at least a few Kansans are holding out flowers to the Islamic community.

Two people sent flowers to the Islamic Center of Lawrence on Thursday with an apology "for narrow-minded people who might do bad things."

Ahmad Al-Rumaih, spokesman for the Muslim Student Assn. at Kansas University, said there were nine messages on the center's answering machine, all positive.

"We're all in the same boat," said Al-Rumaih, a doctorate student in education at Kansas. "Everything that happens in this country, we are part of it."

Al-Rumaih said Muslims are being low-key in their activities, not out of fear but as a precaution. He said the aftermath of Tuesday's attacks have served to make the 600 Muslims who are part of the center feel more like members of the community than ever before.

"I think that's something good that will come out of all this," he said.

Elsewhere in Kansas, Muslims also were being cautious. Several calls to centers and mosques went unanswered.

A recorded message at the Islamic Society of Wichita said: "We denounce this barbaric act against our fellow Americans. Let the response of our nation be mature and thoughtful. This is moment of prayer and unity, not of hasty action. God bless you. Peace be with you."

In Wichita, Mayor Bob Knight offered support to the Muslim community, including police protection for children on their way home from school. Further, Muslim men have been urged to travel in groups about the city.

KFDI in Wichita reported that two people were arrested for disorderly conduct in connection with incidents that involved yelling at Wichita State University students from the Middle East. Wichita State Police Chief Chuck Rummery said the people arrested were 28 and 29 years old.

In Topeka, Mayor Butch Felker urged tolerance.

"This is a time to come together and show that hatred and violence against us only make our resolve stronger," he said.

According to 2000 census figures, 5,557 people in Kansas said they were of Arab ancestry. Some attend state universities, including 225 students in Lawrence at the Kansas University.

Abdulrahmaan Saleem is a Muslim who has lived in Topeka for 37 years and is American by birth. He said the Topeka Muslims have not been threatened and has received support from the Christians.

Saleem said he wants people to understand that such terrorist acts are against Islam's teachings. A memorial service was planned at the Islamic Center of Topeka for Friday.

About 30 Muslim students at Emporia State University were counseled in the hours after the attacks by two professors. Students were told what to expect as the nation tried to put a face on the culprits.

Nitham Hindi, one of the professors who spoke to students, told them they could expect finger-pointing and a rush to judgment that all Muslims or Arabs are to blame.

"We told them that just because they hear that Arabs are the terrorists, they are not part of that," said Hindi, a Jordanian who has been in the United States since 1983.

Hindi said students were told not to be confrontational if harassed by Americans and "to just keep doing what they are doing."

"So far, there have been no problems," he said. "But I think it's too early to assess the community response."

Hindi said he has witnessed anti-Arab sentiment following the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the Persian Gulf War and the Oklahoma City Bombing.

He said Americans need to refrain from associating a culture or religion with individuals who would do such acts of terrorism.

"This has been tough for everyone," Hindi said.

Sen. Sam Brownback said feelings are running high because of the terrorist attacks but urged people to remain calm.

"And I would ask people not to respond in a hateful fashion toward Arab-Americans," he said.

Officials with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation had not received any reports of threats on Muslims. The agency has been directed to report incidents to the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division in Kansas City, Mo., immediately.

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