- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

Area Muslims say their communities are both unified and more determined than ever to show fellow Americans that violence plays no part in their religion.
Instead of succumbing to the fear of a backlash following last month's terrorist attacks, the estimated 200,000 Muslim-Americans who live in the Washington area have used the Sept. 11 events to educate the public about the teachings of Islam. In the process, they are also getting more involved in the communities around them.
Muslim-American leaders say they are using every chance they get to work with other ethnic groups and offer support to those affected by the attacks.
For example, the Council of American-Islamic Relations hosted a fund-raising dinner earlier this month, which sold out, to help the victims of the attack.
"If you spend $6 to $7 billion in public relations, you wouldn't get better publicity than this. They are getting a chance to promote their community and to explain Islam in interviews," said Zahid Bukhari, director of the Muslims in the American Public Square (MAPS) project at Georgetown University.
Much of the publicity, however, has been forced on them, local Muslims contend.
"You don't have much of a choice when you have to constantly defend yourself and your religion," said Ibrahim Cooper, communications director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations in the District. "You have to remain active. We've always been there, it's just nobody paid any attention to us until now."
Muslims began emigrating to the United States from the Middle East in the 1950s. They mostly settled in big cities like New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, Detroit or Dearborn, Mich., where factory jobs and small business opportunities were plentiful.
Others moved to the Washington area, where the Islamic Center of Washington, one of the largest mosques in the country, was being built. Here, they also found good public schools and private universities. They also found work in the Mideast embassies.
"They concentrated on living in diverse areas like Washington and New York, where they could fit in," said Aly Abuzaakouk, executive director of the American Muslim Council in the District.
Once they became American citizens, other family members followed.
"A lot of people began coming here because of prosperity and tolerance," Mr. Bukhari said. "There were more financial opportunities and more freedom to practice their religion. This is where everyone wanted to be."
They still do, the numbers show.
There are some 45 mosques and Muslim community centers in the area, Mr. Bukhari said. Among the largest centers are the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, the Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg, Dar-ul-Hijra in Falls Church and the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Herndon.
An estimated 7 million Muslims live in the United States, an August 2000 census survey conducted by Zogby International shows.
Of the 7 million, 32.2 percent live in the eastern region of the United States, mostly in New York, New Jersey, Boston, Delaware, the Carolinas and Washington. Some 25 percent live in the south, the survey shows. About 24 percent live in the central Great Lakes area and 18.2 percent live in the west, including California, where about 1 million Muslims now reside.
Despite the high numbers, Muslim-Americans and their way of life largely remained out of the national spotlight until last month's attacks.
Since then, Muslim-American leaders have entered the local political arena, meeting with elected officials to discuss the attacks.
"The political leaders now understand that we can be a bridge to the Muslim world," Mr. Cooper said.
One of the challenges has been to meet the need of the public's request for information about Islam and the Muslim culture, said Khalil Jahshan, vice president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in the District.
"The community has been inundated with need for more information from schools and public libraries who want to know what Islam is about," Mr. Jahshan said. "The fact that Muslim organizations have spoken out about Islam, but people still have questions [shows] public relations may sound simple but it is very difficult."


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