When Osama bin Laden was killed in May, Bushra Salem remembers overhearing a Tokay High student yelling “Your leader’s dead” to a Pakistani-American girl.
Salem, president of Tokay’s Muslim Club, and other members say they’re frustrated about some people’s misconceptions about Islam and the mistaken belief that bin Laden represents them.
“Islam is a religion of peace,” said Salem, a Tokay senior with Palestinian heritage. “There is bias based on what one group claims to be Muslim.”
Natalie Mall, a Muslim Club member who doesn’t practice Islam, joined the club to support the group.
“I don’t think the word ‘terrorism’ should be used,” Mall said. “A lot of Muslims serve in the (U.S.) Army and Marines.”
At the Lodi Muslim Mosque, where mostly Pakistanis come to pray, local leaders say prejudice has escalated since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“Before 9/11 in Lodi, we were just like the rest of the citizens of Lodi,” said Naheem “Nick” Qayyum, the mosque’s treasurer. “After 9/11, we weren’t even second-class citizens.”
Qayyum repeated in a recent interview what Muslims in Lodi have said continuously in the past 10 years — the people responsible for the terrorist attacks do not represent Islam. They used Islam as a tool, Qayyum said.
“What America should have done is come out and agree that al-Qaida doesn’t represent Islam,” Qayyum said. “Osama’s agenda was to drive a wedge between Islam and Christianity, and it looks like it worked.”
Mohammad Alam, an elder at the Lodi Muslim Mosque and a 43-year Lodi resident, said he’s heard “bad words” by non-Muslims. He said he agrees that Muslims are considered second-class citizens.
Like other faiths, Muslims believe in Jesus Christ, Moses, and Adam and Eve, former Lodi mosque President Mohammad Shoaib said.
The 9/11 tragedy hit home in Lodi, when Umer Hayat and his son, Hamid Hayat, were arrested in 2005 on terrorism charges. Umer Hayat was freed a year later when his case ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked.
However, Hamid Hayat was convicted on Sept. 10, 2007 of supporting terrorists and then lying about it to the FBI I. Hayat, who turns 29 today, was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison. He is in custody at the Federal Correctional Institute, about 25 miles north of downtown Phoenix, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. He is due to be released on May 2, 2026.
Hamid Hayat filed an appeal of his conviction in June 2009. The appeal has been heard, but the court has not rendered a ruling, according to Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Qayyum said that in Lodi, Pakistanis are satisfied that the case went through the court process.
On a national level, Qayyum said he heard a little bit of anti-Muslim yelling the first few years after 9/11, but it got more toxic during the political campaigns of 2004 and 2008. He cited former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s criticism of Sharia law as instrumental in turning more Americans against Muslims.
Islam and the Judeo-Christian ethics are the same, Qayyum said, and about 90 percent of Sharia law share the same principles as the U.S. Constitution.
Sharia law influences the legal code in most Muslim countries, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. It’s been controversial in the United States because Sharia law calls for flogging, stoning, amputation, exile or execution for certain offenses, but those sentences are not often prescribed, the Council on Foreign Relations reports.
David Hill, president of the Lodi-based Breakthrough Project, whose mission is to foster greater understanding among cultures, said that a majority of people believe the 9/11 attacks represented a small faction of the Islamic community.
“I think it’s a work in progress, and I think it’s important that we see people as individuals,” said Linda Hammond, a Breakthrough Project board member who said she wasn’t speaking on behalf of the organization. “We shouldn’t characterize a whole group of people for the actions of a few.”
Meanwhile, Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, says he’s hopeful for the future.
“There have been challenges in the past 10 years, but as a country, I think we’ve grown quite a bit,” Elkarra said.
There has been an increase in employment discrimination among Muslims, but with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, Elkarra said he hopes for more unity and a decrease in civil rights abuses.
Mall, the Tokay Muslim Club member who is a non-Muslim, said she hopes for better understanding among cultures.
“It is important for Tokay, and Lodi, that this is a sad day for all of us,” Mall said. “We’re all on the same side — for America and peace.”
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.