By Fabienne Faur (AFP) – Aug 24, 2011
STERLING, Virginia — Muslims in Sterling, Virginia have marked every anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 with a solemn prayer service for the victims and heightened vigilance against potential hate crimes.
A high degree of integration has not shielded American Muslims from being tarred with the same brush as the Al-Qaeda radicals who carried out the attacks.
Ten years after the attacks, Islamophobia remains a potent force in American political discourse, and threatens innocent citizens with discrimination and sometimes violence.
"At least at the 10th anniversary, we as all Americans can be at least comforted that (Al-Qaeda leader) Osama bin Laden is gone," said Rizwan Jaka, a director of the Adams Center, one of the largest mosques and Muslim community centers in the Washington area.
The American Muslim community "welcomed" bin Laden's death and was "relieved justice was served for the victims," Jaka said.
"It was an attack against all Americans, American Muslims were killed in the attacks, all the communities were attacked that day," he told AFP.
Yet even as the Muslim community reaffirms its commitment to fight and condemn terrorism, it must also seek heightened police protection.
"We have to be careful," Jaka explained.
The insults, the acts of vandalism and the harassment of Muslims sparked by the attacks remain a constant threat.
The number of "hate crimes" reported against Muslims jumped to 481 in 2001 from just 28 a year earlier, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. By 2006, that number had shrunk to 150 and has hovered at around 100 per year ever since.
Simply trying to build a new mosque can also get a community -- or even the country -- up in arms.
An Islamic center planned near Ground Zero in New York became a major issue in November's mid-term election and a Pew poll found that 60% of Americans oppose its construction.
Similar though smaller fights occurred in 35 American cities in 2009 and 2010.
Legislation banning Sharia law has also been introduced in over a dozen US states.
Complaints made to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee last year rose to their highest point since 2003, and included workplace harassment, bullying at school, housing discrimination, and problems with police and immigration officials.
"The surveillance of Muslims has become widespread since 9/11," said Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
That surveillance comes as the country comes to grips with the threat of "homegrown" terrorism.
Some 161 attacks were planned or perpetuated by American Muslims in the past 10 years, according to Charles Kurzman, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The 11 fatal attacks left 33 people dead, including 13 killed in the 2009 attack at Fort Hood in Texas. The Muslim community helped block 48 of the plots by providing key information to law enforcement.
A recent Gallup poll found that while the overwhelming number of American Muslims reject terrorism, nearly half report said they had "personally experienced" ethnic or religious discrimination in the past year.
But the country's 2.6 million Muslims (who comprise 0.6 percent of the population) tend to be more optimistic than other religious groups, with six out of ten saying they are "thriving" in the United States.
A young woman exiting Friday prayers in Sterling said she often feels the need to defend her faith.
"I shouldn't have to apologize for the actions of terrorists who killed innocents," Yasmine, 18, told AFP. "That's not at all what God wants. That's not at all what people who are associated with me want."
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