The after-effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks remain noticeable in the lives of Americans, and the Muslim-American community is no exception.
Florida Chapter’s Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Nezar Hamze said the negative perception of the religion is still seen today.
“(There is) name-calling and the stares,” he said. “It’s getting better, but people are still a little on edge. They haven’t fully gotten past it.”
Muslim Student Association (MSA) Vice President Roshdyna Ahmad, a sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences, said she was praying in a Texas mosque after Sept. 11, when a pig head was left on the mosque’s door – Islam doesn’t permit eating pork.
“So we had this bloody pig head in front of the door,” she said. “I think they tried not to say anything to people and just kind of clean it up. After 9/11, I know that message in particular we did a lot of events to show that we’re normal people. We’re not these people that they think we are. It was a very hard time.”
MSA President Safia Khawaja said she also experienced the change in the perception of Islam during a family vacation in Tennessee last year.
“We were just standing outside taking pictures and there was a truck that drove by and some guy that yelled out ‘terrorist,'” she said. “So that was honestly the only experience that I’ve had as far as prejudice goes. When you walk around, you do get the stares. Honestly, after 9/11, that’s the major turning point when everyone’s views on Islam changed.”
Khawaja, a sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences, said the terrorist attacks aren’t a representation of Islam.
“The fact that it defines the entire population of Islam, I guess as you can say, is sad in a way because you have millions of Muslims who have nothing to do with it,” she said. “Muslims in the future, they’re being impacted by this one act that they had nothing to do with because of a decision a few so-called Muslims decided to make.”
Khawaja said she’s trying to get most of the roughly 400-member MSA to attend USF’s commemoration ceremony tomorrow.
“This is a huge event that affected all Muslims,” she said. “For us to come to just attend … it’s kind of like voicing our opinions, saying we condemn the fact.”
According to the 2001 FBI statistics of hate crimes, there was a distribution change from before 2001 compared to the years that followed among the type of incidents that occurred.
“Anti-Islamic religion incidents were previously the second least reported, but in 2001, they became the second highest reported among religious-bias incidents … growing by more than 1,600 percent over the 2000 volume,” the report states. “Hate crimes touch not only the individual victim, but they also affect the entire group associated with the particular bias motivation.”
In 2000, there were 36 victims of anti-Islamic hate crimes. In 2001, there were 554.
In 2009, the most recent year that statistics were available, the number of anti-Islamic hate crimes was still nearly four times higher than in 2000, with 132 reported victims.
James Cavendish, a sociology professor who published a May study on hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims from 2001 to 2005, said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks triggered the increase in hate crimes.
“People think of what they’re doing when they heard about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, much like people remember what they were doing when they heard about Kennedy’s assassination or the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” he said. “So, this is sort of the thing where a major event that influences that is certainly prominent in our collective memory in that last couple of generations. It’s influenced so many things.”
Cavendish said, since then, the Arab and Muslim community has made efforts to promote their own Americanism.
“They want to give the Muslim communities every effort to distance themselves from the ideology of the terrorist attacks and really promote their own Americanism – their own American identity,” he said.
Khawaja said she hopes the prejudice disappears in the future.
“It still is a deep wound in many people’s hearts,” she said. “It has healed a little bit. Many people lost lives, but at that event, many Muslims lost their lives. So, right now, it has gotten a little better, but it’s not like it’s completely gone. People still have that prejudice, and people still have that hatred,” she said. “We want people to move on.”