- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

PATERSON, N.J.
The threat of war and the sniper shootings case promise to make the holy month of Ramadan an anxious time for American Muslims, just as last year after the terrorist attacks.
"It would be like on Christmas Day, if Christians felt they were in the position of guilt by association," said Hodan Hassan, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
At the holiest time of the year, "you feel like you have to defend your faith and defend yourself and prove that you are a real American," she said.
Ramadan marks God's revelation of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, to Muhammad nearly 1,400 years ago. Muslims abstain from food, drink and sex during daylight hours in an act of sacrifice and purification.
The holiday is marked on a lunar calendar and begins at the first sighting of the crescent moon, which should occur today in the United States, said Khalid Shaukat, a lunar-observation consultant for major Islamic groups.
Last year, the holiday came two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
This year, the nation is poised for another military conflict with a Muslim nation, this time Iraq. News that one of the Washington-area sniper suspects is a convert to Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam has some Muslims fearful of a backlash similar to the one after September 11, even though the status of Mr. Farrakhan's group as part of orthodox Islam is disputed.
While Muslims will continue to fast, pray and gather with family as they have done for centuries, this Ramadan will be more restrained and anxious, many say.
"Our teaching is that anything that happens to us is a test," said Nabil Abbassi, president of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, one of the most influential mosques in New Jersey.
"There were beautiful, pleasant, easygoing times before, and they were a test of how we handled blessings.
"Now we are in a different kind of test. Our religion is being questioned and attacked everywhere."
Each day of fasting ends with family and friends gathering to share a rich meal that begins with dates, juice and soup and ends with sticky pastries. That communal meal in the evening traditionally has been a great celebration. But for the past two years, world events have dulled some of the joy.
Muslims agonized over the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan last fall. They fear much greater destruction and death if the United States attacks Iraq in an effort to topple Saddam Hussein.
"The war against Iraq will never benefit the American people or humanity," said Imam Mohammad Qatanani, the spiritual leader of the Paterson mosque.
"We will pray this month by raising our hands to God to stop any kind of war between brothers and sisters."
But Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, based in Plainfield, Ind., said American Muslims have one reason to be especially joyful this Ramadan.
"The terrorists thought the power of America was in those tall towers and took them down," Mr. Syeed said.
"But they didn't know the real power of America is in its people of all colors and religions coming together to make a society in which everyone contributes, and that has not changed."


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