Community columnist: Muslim community seeks to move forward

2012-08-24T23:57:00Z Community columnist: Muslim community seeks to move forwardBy LAYLA YOUNIS
August 24, 2012 11:57 pm  • 

Ramadan, the month of fasting from sun up to sun down for Muslims, ended this past weekend with the celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr. Eid-Al-Fitr begins with a morning prayer. Members of the Islamic Foundation of Lincoln, one of the three mosques in Lincoln, held their prayer at the Belmont Recreation Center on Aug. 19 at 9 a.m. because their own center is just too small for the growing Muslim community in Lincoln. Donations were encouraged after the prayer toward the goal of purchasing land to build a new mosque, but foundation members know it will not be easy.

It is almost 11 years after 9/11, yet we still see setbacks for many Muslims. It would be easy to assume that discrimination toward individuals perceived to be Arab, Muslim, or of Sikh and South Asian decent have died down since 9/11, but many communities remain set back in the post-9/11 era. From the heartache of building the Islamic Center of Tennessee in Murfreesboro to the mosque burning in Joplin, Mo., we are overexposed to what seems an uneducated population toward Muslims. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton on Sept. 22, 2000, just a year before 9/11, to protect religions' freedoms in the land use and prison contexts.

Fourteen percent of active investigations in the first 10 years have involved mosques or Muslims schools, even though only about 1 percent of the American population is Muslim. According to a report in 2011 by the Department of Justice, “Confronting Discrimination in the Post-9/11 Era: Challenges and Opportunities Ten Years later,” the Civil Rights Division has “opened 28 matters involving construction of Muslim religious institutions. Of those, 18 have been opened since May 2010, suggesting that anti-Muslim bias in zoning is on the rise.” It took the Murfreesboro community over two years to construct and build their mosque because neighbors were opposed to their goals and claimed Islam is not a religion, but a political ideology. The conflict raised even the attention of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that “Islam is clearly a religion; a mosque is plainly a place of worship.” In 2001, the FBI reported a 1,600 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crime incidents, but the number since has gone down.

Fasting during Ramadan and praying five times a day are two of the five pillars of Islam. Zainab Al-Baaj, 36, who immigrated to the United States in 1994, is a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, a veil that Muslim females choose to wear, and fulfills those two pillars. Zainab is not only a perfect example of how immigrants can adapt to living in the United States, but is setting an example of how people should overcome the obstacles that 9/11 presented. Zainab said “always be cautious" because "some people just don’t like us here.”

Zainab directs the Middle East North Africa Hope Project at the Good Neighbor Community Center. She said many religious institutions have helped make the community at the Good Neighbor Center feel safer, but our post-9/11 society is far from perfect. On the anniversary of 9/11, there are still people who avoid going out that day and stay inside because of fear. In hopes of setting a good example for others, it is nice that our community can come together to support each other as with Zainab Al-Baaj’s work at the Good Neighbor Center.

On Aug. 10, the mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was finally opened. Maybe someday members of the Islamic Foundation of Lincoln will have a mosque big enough to have their Eid-Al-Fitr at their own place, instead of having to rent a place.

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